About Matt Huddleston

I'm a guy who loves baseball. It is such a great game. I do not, however, have a favorite team that I cheer for. I just root for my favorite players.

Takeaways from the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings

Aside from the mid-season trade deadline that sees numerous players changing squads with the hopes that they might be the final piece needed to push any given team into the postseason, the Winter Meetings are the busiest time of year for trades and signings to take place around Major League Baseball. mlb

In the past, some of baseball’s biggest deals have taken place during the Winter Meetings (it was the 2007 meetings when the Tigers picked up Miguel Cabrera). But while the 2016 Winter Meetings that took place in National Harbor, Maryland, didn’t have nearly as much action as some of the previous ones, there were still some huge transactions that will vastly affect teams when the 2017 season begins.

Following the signings of big-time free agents Yoenis Cespedes and Carlos Beltran over the past couple of weeks, the Winter Meetings began on Sunday evening, with many rumors swirling around as to what would take place over the course of the five day event. But over time, as always, fact was quickly distinguished from rumor.

Things kicked off with the signing of Matt Holliday by the New York Yankees on a one-year, 13 million dollar deal. While the acquisition doesn’t immediately jump off the page as all that great, it’s still an impactful one. The seven-time All-Star can play a variety of positions, and can still hit with the best of them, knocking 20 homers in 2016.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia PhilliesOn the opposite side of the spectrum is Mark Melancon, who is one of the best at limiting homers, giving up just three total over the course of 71.1 innings last season. For his efforts, Melancon was grabbed by the Giants for the next four years at a price tag of 62 million. After saving 88 games over the last two years, Melancon certainly earned it, and San Francisco appears to have found their closer.

It also appears that Melancon will come in handy for the Giants, as their long-time rivals, the Dodgers, were successful in resigning Rich Hill on a three-year, 48 million dollar deal. After being virtually on his way out of the sport at one point, Hill posted a 2.12 ERA last season, and would likely be the Dodgers’ ace if not for Clayton Kershaw. Still, he sits as one of the best pitchers in the game.

Offensively, it became apparent that the Blue Jays were looking into other options other than Edwin Encarnacion following their signing of Kendrys Morales a few weeks ago, but it became even more so with the addition of Steve Pearce for 12.5 over the next two years. Pearce doesn’t have nearly the power of some players, but his bat is still one that can impact any given game, despite not being a huge move.

However, just as it seemed that the Winter Meeting were going to be a bit slow, with just a few above average deals, the Red Sox decided to take things up a notch. Following a trade for reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers in exchange for Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington, Boston made the biggest splash of the offseason to this point.

Reaching deep into their farm system, the Red Sox sent away highly coveted prospects saleYoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, along with Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz, in return for Chris Sale. If Sale can keep up his dominance that’s made him one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Red Sox could win the division with ease in 2017. But as has been seen in the past, baseball is extremely unpredictable.

Nearly as uncertain is a player’s health from any given season to the next, and Wilson Ramos is a prime example of that. After beginning 2016 on a tear, Ramos suffered a season-ending injury this past season, but hopes to be ready to go sometime around the middle of 2017. Whenever he arrives with the Rays, who signed him to a two-year, 12.5 million (18.5 with incentives) dollar deal, he’s sure to make his presence known.

Wade Davis is also sure to make a big difference for the Cubs, as if they needed any more help. After winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years this season, Chicago picked up lockdown reliever Wade Davis from the Royals in a trade that sent Jorge Soler to the Royals. With Aroldis Chapman winding up with a team away from Chicago as the Winter Meetings progressed, Davis could come up big in 2017.

But while teams such as the Red Sox and Cubs were focused on rebuilding their major league lineup, there were those like the White Sox who made huge improvements to their farm system. After receiving quite the hall from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale deal, the Sox proceeded to pick up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning from the Nationals, losing just Adam Eaton in the swap.

Many see this as a vastly one-sided deal, with the Nationals getting the short end of the stick. But after losing out on Chris Sale and Mark Melancon, the Nationals were undoubtedly looking to add an impact piece and were all in to get Adam Eaton. They may regret it in the short term, but in the long term things may work out in their favor.

desmondOne player who didn’t have things work out quite the way he had been hoping was Ian Desmond, who agreed to a five-year, 70 million dollar contract to play in Denver. After struggling mightily in 2015, following a turndown of a 7-year, 102 million dollar offer from the Nationals in 2014, Demsond really broke out again in 2016 with the Rangers.

The Rockies could use some offense (among other things), and Desmond adds a big piece to their improving lineup, despite not getting the contract he could have received just a few seasons ago.

The final big transaction made on the final day of the Winter Meetings saw Aroldis Chapman going back to the Yankees for five years and 86 million dollars. Coming off his help with the Cubs in their World Series title quest in this season, Chapman has long been known as a devastating pitcher, with his 102+ mile per hour fastball. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees fare in 2017 in what has become a competitive division, but with Chapman locking down the ninth, anything is truly possible.

But while some teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox left the Winter Meetings with their teams very different from when things began, with others doing hardly anything at all to improve their club, it’s important to keep in mind that there are still over 16 weeks left until the 2017 season begins.

The shaking up of teams this offseason could possibly be far from over.

Q and A With Alex Kirilloff

Alex Kirilloff was drafted by the Twins in the 1st round of the 2016 draft, after hitting .540 with 3 homers and 24 RBI’s over the course of his senior year at Plum High School in Pennsylvania. alex

But Kirilloff wasn’t your typical high school draft pick. Although he played for his local high school team, Kirilloff took classes online throughout his entire four years there, making him just the second home schooled player to ever be drafted in the first round.

However, despite having never attended classes on campus, the Twins saw great potential in Kirilloff, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. In his first partial season of pro ball this past year, Kirilloff hit .306 with 7 home runs and 33 RBI’s in just 55 games played, winning the Appalachian League Player of the Year.

Although only time will tell if those numbers will continue to translate into the upper levels of the minors, if Kirilloff can keep his hitting going into the coming years, he could be playing in Minnesota in the not so distant future.

Alex Kirilloff — top prospect in the Twins’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

My father was my biggest baseball influence growing up. He always tells me about how the first day I was able to stand up and walk he was already showing me how to hit off a tee. I’ve always had an interest for baseball growing up for as long as I can remember, really. Being surrounded by it kinda led me in that direction.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

Josh Hamilton was probably my favorite baseball player growing up. He captivated me — watching him hit 28 homers in a single round of the 2008 Homerun Derby at Yankee Stadium. I also have read his book. His story is a great example of how even Christians are not perfect. His battle with alcohol and drugs just goes to show what the devil can do to us if we aren’t always careful. Josh’s testimony is tremendous, and I would suggest reading his book Beyond Belief to anyone.

3.) You were drafted by the Twins in the 1st round of the 2016 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

Being drafted by the Twins is truly a blessing. The process throughout high school was long and tedious at some points, but it was all worth it. When I first found out, my teammates, friends and family were all at a local restaurant watching the draft. My initial thoughts were how excited, honored and blessed I was to get selected by them.

4.) In 2015, before you were drafted, you won the Perfect Game All-American Classic Home Run Challenge in San Diego, hitting 34 home runs over the course of the competition. With the power you possess, how important do you consider power-hitting to be in regards to your overall gameplay?

I think the power is a growing part of my overall gameplay. I would hope that the older I get and the more I mature, I hope the power will become more and more relevant. Overall, though, it’s a huge part of hitting to be able to hit doubles and home runs, so I hope to continue to do that.

5.) You were the first high school player since Joe Mauer the Twins immediately sent to Elizabethton to begin their professional career, completely skipping the Gulf Coast League. What type of changes did you find yourself having to make to adjust to the differences between high school and professional baseball?

There are a lot of adjustments to be made from high school to pro ball. The game speeds up a lot; you are getting challenged every at-bat; you are playing every single day; you have to take care of your body better; and you have to be mentally focused everyday.

6.) Despite being sent straight to the Appalachian League, you immediately excelled, going on to win the Appy League Player of the Year for 2016. What did it mean to you to have such a successful start to your pro career?

It meant a lot to get my career started on a good note. I felt that it was reassurance from the Lord that this truly is His plan for me and the avenue that He would like me to impact people through.

7.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Bus rides are usually not exactly the highlight of going on a road trip. Most of your down time is eating and sleeping, to be honest. Again, that’s just another adjustment that has to be made playing pro ball.

8.) Although you had time after signing to play in just 55 games, what do you feel went well in 2016? What are your goals for 2017?

I just think my adjustments to the whole situation went pretty well in 2016. I am always looking to improve though and, Lord willing, do better in 2017.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite TV show is ‘Intentional Talk’. Favorite food is steak.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice would be that if you are serious about your dream of playing baseball, and that it is what you feel the Lord wants you to do, it takes a lot of work. Training, discipline and motivation are all big keys along the way. Putting yourself in different opportunities to be seen by people is important as well, believe it or not.

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Big thanks to Alex Kirilloff for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @AKirilloff19

Atlanta Braves Quietly Becoming Contenders?

After losing their first seven games of the 2016 season and going on to tie for the worst record in all of the National League (losing 93 games in all), no one honestly expected things to be much better in 2017 for the Braves, citing 2018 or later as the arrival of their top prospects and subsequent resurgence. But over the first few weeks of the offseason to this point, Atlanta has been building a decent rotation somewhat under-the-radar.braves

With a strong starting five going a long way in influencing the outcome of any given team’s season, the Braves began to stockpile their rotation with the signings of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon in the middle of November. Although Dickey hasn’t been the same since winning the Cy Young award in 2012, with a 4.05 ERA over the course of 130 starts since, and despite the fact that Colon is set to turn 44 in May — making neither the dominant type of pitcher who will lead to an immediate turnaround — they are both proven pitchers who will provide the Braves with solid innings all season.

However, it was a pickup the Braves completed on Thursday that made people begin to talk about the legitimacy of their rotation. Acquiring Jaime Garcia from the Cardinals in exchange for a few mid-range prospects, Atlanta added yet another solid piece to their pitching staff. While Garcia fell off towards the end of 2016 after beginning the year in brilliant fashion, Garcia has been a great pitcher over the course of his career to this point, and should fit in nicely with the likes of Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz, as well as the aforementioned free agent pickups.

But while the Braves have greatly improved the rotation aspect of their team, and should subsequently improve upon their 4.51 team ERA from last season (especially with there still being rumors that they are pursuing a true ace of the staff), their bullpen remains a bit shaky. Jim Johnson was decent for them last season, and they have a few other pieces such as Mauricio Cabrera and Shae Simmons who will help out, but things haven’t been truly lights out since the loss of Craig freemanKimbrel to the Padres in 2015.

Even so, the Braves should be able to compete on a decent level if their lineup can produce. In 2016, Atlanta was 19th in team batting average and dead last in terms of collective home runs. But Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp (who saw a bounce back season in 2016) will likely be their All-Star selves again in 2017 and greatly contribute, with the Braves possessing a handful of other standout players.

From Dansby Swanson, who is looking to make good upon his stellar late-season campaign in 2016, to Nick Markakis, who has always been a good MLB player over his career, the Braves certainly have the pieces to make 2017 a year to remember.

Now they just have to put them all together.

In the end, the Braves still face a tough path in 2017. With the Nationals and Mets set to battle for who will win the division, leaving the Marlins to likely come in third, all signs point to it being between the Phillies and Braves for who will finish fourth and fifth.

But whether or not the Braves can stun the baseball world and finish any better than fourth in the National League East in 2017, the point is still clear: The Braves aren’t merely sitting around and waiting for their top, game-changing prospects to arrive over the course of the next few seasons.

For the Atlanta Braves, the time to win is right now.

December Blogging Plans

The Major League Baseball season has officially been over for almost a full month, but that doesn’t mean that things going on in the baseball world have come to a halt as well.

While there isn’t as much to talk about in terms of actual baseball action, the offseason trades and signings that take place each and every season are just now beginning to take place, with a major uptick sure to occur during the Winter Meetings next week. With that in mind, I wanted to go over the things I plan to blog about in the coming month.

First off, I’ll obviously be writing about the biggest trades and signings as they occur. While I can’t write about every single one, I will likely take the time to give my thoughts on the bigger names that get moved, as well as the Winter Meetings as a whole, should they turn out to be jam-packed.

Following that, the greatness in baseball yearly (GIBBY) awards are set to be handed out in December, with a number of players being awarded hardware for a number of categories in recognition of the season they had.

At some point during the month, I’ll be posting a couple of interviews, with one likely coming in the first week of the month, with the second coming sometimes in the latter part of December. The current lineup sees Alex Kirilloff (the Twins’ first round draft pick from 2016) and Daniel Norris up next, but that’s always subject to change.

Other than that, I’ll continue to simply blog about things as they happen. As stated, this isn’t the busiest time of the year due to there being no more baseball games to watch, but it’s times like these where some of my more creative writing takes place. So, who knows what I’ll decide to write about? Stay tuned.

Being Thankful Around MLB This Thanksgiving

As we all know, Thanksgiving is the time of year where we reflect on what has happened throughout the previous year and take the time to appreciate the things we are most thankful for. That can be applied to Major League Baseball asthanks well.

Although not as important in the grand scheme of things as being thankful for family, health, etc., there are many things each and every baseball team can be thankful for.

Whether they’re thankful for what has already happened in 2016 or of the things likely to come in 2017, every team has a lot to be thankful for.

With that in mind, I figured I’d come up with a list of one thing each of the 30 MLB teams should be thankful for this holiday (not necessarily the thing each is MOST thankful for, just something to be thankful for in general):

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Red Sox: As one superstar departs, another arrives

The career David Ortiz had for the Red Sox was truly remarkable, but Boston appears to have someone ready to fill his shoes following his retirement. Mookie Betts was good in 2015, but he was astounding in 2016, hitting 31 homers and finishing second to Mike Trout in American League MVP voting. As such, David Ortiz will certainly be missed at Fenway, but Boston fans should be thankful that they have a player like Mookie Betts set to keep the Red Sox in contention in the years to come.

Orioles: Zach Britton is the real deal

While there are a number of people who feel the Orioles would be best suited to trade away Zach Britton while his stock is high following the historically great season he had as a reliever in 2016 — recording the lowest ERA (0.54) ever for a relief pitcher — retaining him for 2017 is extremely important in my mind. The Orioles should be thankful that they have a closer like Britton who they can count on to slam the door in the ninth. Pitchers like him are very rare, and teams with a strong closer tend to fare better than those who don’t.morales

Blue Jays: Adding Kendrys Morales to their already powerful lineup

It remains to be seen whether the Blue Jays can keep Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista as part of their lineup heading into next season (it’s looking less and less likely as of late), but regardless, they did a lot for their club recently by signing veteran DH Kendrys Morales. Blasting 30 home runs for the Royals last season, Morales joins a roster that’s guaranteed to contain power bats Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson. If nothing else, Toronto should be very thankful they don’t have to pitch to their own ball club.

Yankees: Gary Sanchez’s historic season a sign of things to come

Gary Sanchez was virtually an unknown heading into the 2016 season, but by the end of the year he was a household name. Bursting onto the scene in August, Sanchez proceeded to set a number of rookie records, winding up with 20 home runs for the season. Although Sanchez didn’t win Rookie of the Year, the Yankees should be thankful that there’s more where he came from. With top prospects such as Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier looking to make impacts in 2017, Sanchez appears to be the tip of the iceberg for the Yankees’ resurgence.

Rays: Having multiple power threats

The Rays may have finished dead last in the American League East in 2016, but they still had some fantastic performances. Their pitching wasn’t that great throughout the year, but offensively they were actually fairly decent. Evan Longoria managed to hit 36 bombs, with Brad Miller and Corey Dickerson breaking out to have career highs in homers, at 30 and 24 (tying a career high), respectively. If the Rays happen to climb up the standings next season, the Rays fans will have players such as Longoria, Miller and Dickerson to be thankful to.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Nationals: Daniel Murphy’s and Tanner Roark’s breakout seasons

With Bryce Harper seeing a drastic drop off from his 2015 MVP-winning numbers, and Stephen Strasburg suffering through a series of injuries, the Nationals could have very easily fallen apart this year. But just the opposite, they won the division with ease. Although it was undoubtedly a collective effort, the breakout seasons of Daniel Murphy and Tanner Roark helped tremendously. With Murphy hitting .347 with 25 homers and Roark leading the team with a 2.83 ERA, the Nats have them to thank in large part for making the postseason in 2016.

Mets: Health should return to rotation in 2017

The Mets were expected to keep pace with the Nationals all season long, having things come right down until the very end for who would win the division. But that’s not close to what happen. Due to Jacob de Grom, Steven Matz and Matt Harvey all struggling in 2016, only Noah Syndergaard lived up to the billing, and that wasn’t nearly enough to overtake the Nationals. But the Mets should be very thankful that all of those pitchers should be back to form in 2017. ozunaIf all goes as planned, the Mets should be very good again next season.

Marlins: Marcell Ozuna looks to be headed for stardom

We have known about the stupendous power of Giancarlo Stanton for some time, but after the 2016 season Marcell Ozuna put together, people are beginning to take notice of his big bat as well. Though no one hits them quite like Stanton, Ozuna hit 23 homers for the second time in his career this past year and made his first All-Star team. Stanton will continue to be the top talent on the team as long as he continues to stay healthy, but the Marlins should be thankful they have a great co-power threat such as Ozuna in their lineup on an everyday basis.

Phillies: Tommy Joseph eases Phillies’ minds of losing Ryan Howard

There hasn’t been a lot for the fans of the Phillies to be thankful for over the past few seasons, especially after being so dominant for so many years not too long ago. But Tommy Joseph just might change that for them in the years to come. Losing long time Phillies star Ryan Howard is certainly a big blow to their offense, but Joseph proved in 2016 that he is talented enough to fill the big shoes left at first by the departing Howard. Hitting 21 homers this past season, Joseph should fit right in and continue to post solid numbers for Philadelphia.

Braves: Signing of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon to help rotation

One of the worst teams in all of baseball in 2016, the Braves are all set to move across town to their new ballpark in 2017. But while that’s exciting for both the team and their fans, one of the things they should be thankful for is the additions of veteran pitchers R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon so far this offseason. Though they aren’t the type of pitchers who can turn a team around, they are still impactful pitchers who will give the Braves solid innings and give their rotation a bit of a boost as soon as the season begins in early April.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Indians: Made it to World Series without biggest pieces

The fans of the Indians have every right to be disappointed that they made it all the way to game seven of the World Series only to lose in extras, but there is a very big silver lining that should cause the Indians to feel thankful for what may come in 2017. The fact that Cleveland was able to make the World Series without Michael Brantley or other key figures from 2015 should give their fans hope for 2017. While the Indians didn’t break their 68-year Fall Classic Championship drought this year, they very well could attempt to secure a title yet again in 2017.

Tigers: Justin Verlander had another Cy-Young-caliber year

After making six straight All-Star teams from 2009 to 2013, Justin Verlander simply hadn’t been the same pitcher over the last two seasons. With a combined ERA of 4.08 over 52 starts made in the aforementioned seasons, Verlander was no longer a feared pitcher in the Tigers’ rotation, at least not on the same level he had once been. But 2016 saw Verlander breaking out again, which is something Tigers’ fans should be thankful for. Though 2016 saw the Tigers failing to make the postseason, 2017 looks promising if Verlander continues to thrive.duffy

Royals: Danny Duffy showed signs of being an Ace

There aren’t many true Aces around baseball, merely a lot of really good pitchers. But Danny Duffy, who had shown signs of greatness over the last few seasons, showed even more such signs in 2016. With the best team ERA of the entire Royals’ rotation, Duffy truly made his presence known in August in one start against the Rays. In that game, Duffy struck out a whopping sixteen batters in his one-hit masterpiece. Even if the Royals fail to make the postseason again in 2017, they should be thankful to have a guy like Duffy ready to lead the staff.

White Sox: Todd Frazier held down the hot corner

Not too much went right for the White Sox this year, but one of the bright spots for them was undoubtedly Todd Frazier. Although Frazier has always been a great player, his career-high 40 home runs in 2016 truly cemented him as one of the best offensive third basemen in baseball as well as a player the White Sox should give thanks for possessing. His defense was also very solid, making him a valuable part of Chicago’s lineup heading into next season. If Frazier can continue to smack the ball, he should be a big contributor for the foreseeable future.

Twins: Brian Dozier keeps getting better and better

The Twins should be very thankful to have Brian Dozier as the best offensive second baseman in baseball. Following an amazing 2015 campaign, very few thought Dozier could possibly get any better. But he proved them all wrong this season, hitting an MLB-record 42 homers at second. With that kind of pop, Dozier easily led the Twins, who had a good amount of struggles offensively throughout their poor season. Nothing is guaranteed from one season to the next, but Dozier being great again in 2017 is pretty much a given.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Cubs: 108-Year World Series drought was ended

It’s a safe bet to assume that every Cubs fan will list their team finally winning a World Series title as something they’re thankful for from 2016, and understandably so. After over a century of disappointment, the Cubs were able to break through and win their first championship against the Indians early this month. Although getting to the World Series is very difficult, regardless of if the Cubs ever make it back again the fans of their club will assuredly remember how they felt upon the final out of game seven for the rest of their lives.

Cardinals: One-two punch of Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes setting up

Adam Wainwright proved in 2016 that he can still compete at the major league level, but when it comes to absolutely dominating the opposing squad, it falls to Carlos Martinez and the youngster Alex Reyes for the Cardinals next year. They each have a blazing fastball in their arsenal, and the Cardinals should be thankful that they have each of them ready to man the top of St. Louis’s rotation moving forward. Their lineup will likely be good again in 2017, but whatMLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at Atlanta Braves will ultimately help the Cards succeed next season falls on their rotation.

Pirates: Pitching should improve from within in 2017

Gerrit Cole was good in 2016, and Ivan Nova surprised many with his performance, but what will truly enable the Pirates to become contenders once again is their young pitching stars set to make big impacts. While both Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow got some big league experience last year, they should each be watched very closely for their potential to have breakout seasons in 2017. Though the Pirates didn’t make the postseason this year, they have a great potential to return next season, as well as the many seasons to come after that.

Brewers: Chris Carter’s 2014 season wasn’t a fluke

It isn’t all that rare to see a player have a breakout season and excite people with their future potential, only to fall apart and never have a year close to their pinnacle year ever again. There were some thoughts to that being the case with Chris Carter, who hit 37 homers in 2014, only to launch a mere 24 the very next year. Thus, heading into this season, how he would perform in 2016 was very much up in the air, but he came through and blasted 41 big flies. Despite 2017 not looking too good for the Brewers, they should be thankful to have a proven slugger like Carter.

Reds: Adam Duval breaks out, with reinforcements not too far away

Finishing dead last in your division is never fun for any team, but the Reds have too good of a fan base and too rich of a history to land at the bottom of the pack. Their bright spot from 2016 was truly Adam Duvall going on a tear to hit 33 home runs, being one of their biggest power threats besides Jay Bruce, who went to the Mets midseason. But in addition to being thankful to have Duvall on their team, Reds fans should be thankful to have a deep farm system. With players such as Amir Garrett and Jesse Winker nearly ready, things should look up fairly soon in Cincy.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Rangers: 95 wins was simply the start of greatness

For a team that had multiple injuries throughout the season, many of which were with their pitching staff, the Rangers obviously fared very well in 2016. With 95 wins, the Rangers won their division and should be setup nicely to do so again in 2017. Their division isn’t a powerhouse by any means, but with the Mariners nearly making the postseason in 2016 and the Astros looking to bounce back next season, things could get interesting in the AL Central. For that reason, the Rangers should be thankful to have the great team they do, assuming they all stay healthy.

Mariners: Made first strong run at playoffs since 2001

A couple of 20+ season postseason droughts have been broken over the past few seasons, including the Pirates and Blue Jays, but to say Mariners fans have been waiting awhile for a playoff appearance would be an understatement. To put things in perspective, Ichiro Suzuki had just 242 career MLB hits the last time Seattle was playing deep into October. However, Mariners fans should be thankful to finally see a playoff-caliber team put on display in 2016, with the likes of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager ready to lead the charge next year.Blue Jays at Yankees

Astros: Signings of Brian McCann and Josh Reddick should energize young Astros

Trades or signings can always bring great talent to a given team, and the pickups of Brian McCann via trade and Josh Reddick by way of a large contract should help give the Astros an extra boost in 2017. After making the playoffs in 2015, many things kept Houston on the outside looking in for 2016. But even so, the Astros should be thankful to have picked up two solid veterans who, when combined with the talent already on the Astros’ roster, should put Houston back in a nice spot.

Angels: Albert Pujols is still a power threat

Most Angels fans would likely say they are most thankful to have two-time MVP Mike Trout — and generally agreed upon best player in baseball — on their team, but they shouldn’t overlook Albert Pujols. Though he gets his share of the spotlight, Pujols somewhat silently hit a team-best 31 blasts last season while recording his most RBI’s since 2009, and is now just nine homers away from 600 for his career. With those kind of numbers, the Angels should be thrilled to have Pujols producing big time at the plate alongside superstar Mike Trout.

Athletics: Khris Davis improved tremendously

On a team that was 21st in baseball in terms of home runs hit, Kris Davis was one of the few bright spots for the Athletics last year. Hitting a career-high 42 home runs — good enough for third most in baseball — Davis exceeded the expectations many placed on him by a huge margin, and Oakland should be thankful to have a player of his caliber on their team. Though things aren’t looking up by anyone’s calculations for the A’s to be in contention much at all next season, Davis will likely be a huger power threat for yet another year.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

Dodgers: Julio Urias and Jose de Leon ready to join Clayton Kershaw

Let me get this out of the way: There is currently no pitcher in all of baseball on the same level as Clayton Kershaw. Though there are a few pitchers who dominate just as much as he does, there’s something special about Kershaw that makes him a once-in-a-generation talent. With that said, the Dodgers, as well as Kershaw himself, should be thankful to have top-notch pitching talent ready to go for 2017. Julio Urias and Jose de Leon have been the Dodgers’ top prospects for several years, but they should become among their top pitching options for years to come.

Giants: They made the postseason, despite having a horrific second half

After the Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, people joked (to a serious extent) that they would once again win a title in 2016. They got off to such a great start, that by the time the All-Star game rolled around, more and more people began to get on board with the idea. But San Francisco proceeded to have one of the worst collapses in MLB history, barely making the postseason. But the Giants should be thankful that they make the postseason, especially given the fact that if they can improve even the slightest in 2017, they should easily be back again.gray

Rockies: Jeff Hoffman and Jon Gray giving Rockies talent on pitching side

The hitting is already in place for the Rockies. While playing at Coors Field in Denver helps pad their numbers a bit, they currently have several impact hitters such as Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, D.J. LeMahieu and Trevor Story. But while their pitching has been somewhat subpar recently, former first rounders Jeff Hoffman and Jon Gray showed signs of major improvement, for which the Rockies should be thankful. If they can get any sort of momentum going in their rotation, anything is truly possible for Colorado.

Diamondbacks: Their pitching staff can’t be any worse in 2017

While anything is always possible, a scenario where the Diamondbacks have a worse rotation in 2017 than the one they produced in 2016 is hard to imagine. For that alone, the D-back’s and their fan base should be very, very thankful. From top to bottom, their starting rotation was atrocious, seeing them finish dead last in terms of team ERA with a collective 5.09 earned run average. With even their bright spots Zack Greinke (4.37 ERA) and Shelby Miller (6.15 ERA) doing poorly in 2016, look for a major turnaround from them in 2017.

Padres: Wil Myers had a breakout season, with Hunter Renfroe to follow

The Padres haven’t had all that much success in the recent history of their ball club. That was true once again in 2016. But they should be thankful to have players such as Wil Myers and Hunter Renfroe ready to lead their team in the coming years. After winning the Rookie of the Year in 2013 with the Rays, Wil Myers finally had the star year people have been waiting for, blasting 28 homers this season. Soon to join Myers in stardom appears to be Renfroe, who hit .371 with 4 homers and 14 RBI’s in just eleven games played last season.

*Keep in mind, this list was (obviously) made far before the 2017 season was even close to commencing. Any listed player could sign with a team other than their current club, or get traded away, completely throwing off everything I said for that particular team.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Q and A With Jacob Faria

Jacob Faria was drafted by the Rays in the 10th round of the 2011 draft, after going 8-1 with a 1.75 ERA his senior year at Gahr High School in California.faria

Since the draft, Faria has seen a great deal of success, making a steady progression through Tampa’s minor league system, and making big impressions along the way. Over that time, Faria has recorded a stellar career 3.13 ERA, moving all the way up to Triple-A for the second half of the 2016 season.

Between Faria’s time at Double-A and Triple-A in his most recent 2016 campaign, Faria saw his collective ERA jump from 1.92 the year before up over two full runs to 3.99 in 2016. But despite the numbers not seemingly showing it, Faria had another great season and made numerous strides in his path to the majors.

While he didn’t receive a big league call up in 2016, as some predicted he might towards the end of the year, many are anticipating that time to come at some point in 2017 if all continues to go as planned.

Jacob Faria — top prospect in the Rays’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I became interested in baseball at the age of six, and my biggest baseball influence was my dad. He’s the reason I started getting into the game, and he sacrificed so much to help me get a shot at my dream.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

My favorite baseball player growing up was Vladimir Guerrero. I grew up an Angels fan and we had season tickets, so getting to watch him play right field was awesome. But once I started getting into pitching, Jered Weaver became my favorite player, and I modeled my game after him.

3.) You were drafted by the Rays in the 10th round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

My draft day was very hectic. I actually had so many scouts calling me that my dad had to take me out of school early. We went to my mom’s house from school (my parents are divorced) and set up two computers to watch the draft. Once they called my name, I stood up. I remember not being able to feel my legs. It was such a huge accomplishment for me at the time, and it awesome that I got to share that moment with my dad, mom and step dad.

4.) Over the course of your career to this point, you’ve had many great outings. Is there any one start of your career so far that stands out in your mind as the most memorable?

My most memorable performance came in my second Double-A outing in Montgomery on the Fourth of July last season in 2015. It was against Biloxi, the Brewers Double-A affiliate, and I went seven no-hit innings with 14 K’s.

5.) This season, you saw your combined season ERA jump from 1.92 in 2015 up to 3.99 in 2016. Do you attribute any specific thing to the two-run jump in ERA, or do you feel it was simply a result of you spending time in Triple-A and having to face more experienced hitters and tougher at-bats?

When I returned back to Montgomery this season a lot of things just didn’t go my way on the mound or on the field, and that just happens. But it kind of did affect me mentally. It was great to be able to face adversity, though, because it did help me become a mentally stronger pitcher, as well as taught me how to be on the mound and pitch when things don’t go my way or when I don’t have my best stuff. It’s easy to go out there when you have everything going for you, but you learn the most from the games when you don’t have your best stuff and still have to find a way to get out of the inning. Baseball isn’t a perfect game, and that’s what makes it so fun. Everyone expects players to be perfect all the time, but if baseball was perfect the game would be predictable. I’m just thankful for the adversity I went through, because I feel it helped me once I got to Durham, and helped me become a better pitcher overall.

6.) The Rays finished last in the American League East division in 2016. How do you feel about the Rays’ chances of once again becoming a contending team moving forward in 2017 and beyond with the talent you’ve witnessed in their minor league system?

The Rays have a lot of talent throughout the minor leagues, and that’s at every position. It’s really exciting to see guys do so well, too, during the year, because these guys are the Rays’ future. With that being said, I think the Rays have a great group of upcoming guys who will contribute to help them become contenders again.

7.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

The most difficult thing of being on the road is just finding a routine. Every place we go is so different. The hotels are different; the surroundings are different; even the small things down to how to get to the field or the places to eat. You have to adjust quickly to whatever place you’re in, and by the time you actually do adjust you’re back on the bus or plane traveling to the next place. While I’m on the road, I mostly watch TV or movies, and I try to FaceTime my girlfriend as much as possible. I just try to rest overall and enjoy the downtime since I don’t get much of it.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2016? What are your goals for 2017?

I was healthy all year and made all my starts, which is something I strive to do every season. I also got stronger mentally, which helped me learn how to battle through certain situations. I did feel like my time in Triple-A taught me a lot about being an actual pitcher as well. My goals for 2017 are to get stronger and learn more about the game. I’m always trying to build off the previous season and apply what I learned from the year before to my current season.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

My favorite TV show is ‘The Office’. I watch the entire series on Netflix every season. My favorite food is anything Cuban. I’m Cuban and finding Cuban food is tough during season, but thankfully I’m able to find a couple places to hold me over until I get home.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

A piece of advice I would give to kids is to just have fun; that’s the biggest and most important thing. This game is meant to be fun. Also, to keep working hard and don’t let anyone tell you no. I had so many people doubt me and tell me no, but all I did was use it as motivation to work hard.

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Big thanks to Jacob Faria for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @JDFaria36

Trout and Bryant Win MVP Award

The Most Valuable Player award was first given out in 1911 to Ty Cobb of the American League and Frank Schulte of the National League. Originally known as the Chalmers award, named after Hugh Chalmers, the award didn’t catch on as well as had been hoped, and therefore was discontinued after the 1914 season.

In 1922 the League Awards were established to honor the baseball player in the American League (National League began being recognized in 1924) who provided the greatest all-around service to their club. The winner — who received a medal and cash for winning — was voted on by a committee of eight baseball writers, with a player not being able to win more than once. Like the Chalmers awards, these awards didn’t last long, stopping in 1929.

Finally in 1931 the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Most Valuable Player award was established, which is the award still given out today.

Voting for the award is fairly straightforward.

Two writers from each city of both the American League and National League make up the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) voters for the Most Valuable Player award, making a total of thirty voters for each league (fifteen teams, with two voters per city). A first place vote earns a player fourteen points, a second place vote gets nine points, a third place vote receives eight points, a fourth place vote is worth seven points, and so on, all the way until tenth place for one point. Once added up, the player with the highest overall total wins.

There is no specific criteria for the voters to use when choosing the Most Valuable Player, but some suggested attributes include value of a player to his team (strength of offense and defense), number of games played, and a player’s overall character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

The 2016 Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player award winners for both the American League and National League were announced Thursday night on MLB Network. Here are the winners, along with my thoughts on each:

AMERICAN LEAGUE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Original Pick: David Ortiz

Finalists: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve

Winner: Mike Trout

Thoughts On Mike Trout Winning

Although I had David Ortiz winning the award in my original predictions, I knew in my heart that it was a long shot, as he wasn’t even among the finalists when they were revealed. With that said, however, I can’t argue with Mike Trout taking home the honor, picking up the second MVP award of his young career. trout

With his second MVP (his first came in 2014), Trout has now finished first or second in MVP voting for each of the full five seasons of his career to this point, joining Barry Bonds as the only other player to finish in the top two for five straight seasons. With his 29 home runs and 30 stolen bases, Trout also finished just one homer shy of becoming the first player ever to record two 30-30 seasons before age 25.

Trout won the MVP by a fairly large margin, earing 19 first place votes and 356 points, beating out Mookie Betts and his 31 homers, earning him 9 first place votes, good for 311 points, with the .338 hitter Jose Altuve coming in third, with 227 points, despite no first place votes. (The other two first place votes went to David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre, getting one apiece).

With the MVP award win, Trout looks to have all the makings of a Hall of Famer, beating the odds by winning the award on a losing team, which has proven to be no easy task in recent voting history.

Despite being in the majors for such a short time, when you’re as good as Mike Trout is, many more MVP wins being in the future is nearly a guarantee.

NATIONAL LEAGUE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Original Pick: Kris Bryant

Finalists: Kris Bryant, Daniel Murphy and Corey Seager

Winner: Kris Bryant

Thoughts On Kris Bryant Winning

The American League MVP award went to a player who had already won an MVP in his career, being Mike Trout, but the National League portion was guaranteed to go to a player to never win the hardware. With Kris Bryant, Daniel Murphy and Corey Seager all being in their first time in the running, history was sure to be made. bryant

With that said, the voting wasn’t close. Bryant took home the MVP, doing so on the strength of 415 points and all but one of the first place votes. Coming after picking up the 2015 Rookie of the Year award in unanimous fashion, Bryant becomes the fourth player to win the MVP the season after winning R.O.Y., joining Cal Ripken Jr., Ryan Howard and Dustin Pedroia.

Finishing in second place was Murphy, who received the other first place vote, totaling 245 points, with Seager getting 240 points and placing third. While the majority of the baseball world felt confident that Bryant would win the award, I’m not sure anyone thought it would be by a whopping 170 points, truly showing just how great of a season he had.

Bryant blasted 39 homers this season to go along with his 102 RBI’s and 121 runs scored, marking off his season in the ultimate way, after helping the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years. Although Murphy’s .347 average to go along with 25 homers and Seager’s 26 home run rookie campaign were great, it was Bryant who was head and shoulders above the rest.

With the Cubs finally seeming relevant once again, and Bryant breaking out as one of the game’s top superstars, Bryant should continue to be in the running for MVP in the foreseeable future.