American League Predictions for 2016

For the fifth season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I had the Red Sox placing first in 2015 and they finished last), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.

I’ll be posting my predictions for the National League in the next few days, but for now, I’m going to give my predictions for the American League (along with my reasoning), starting with the American League East:

EAST

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Blue Jays

4. Orioles

5. Rays

For a team that has finished dead last each of the past two seasons, it’s hard to wrap my head around placing the Red Sox to win the Americna League East division in 2016, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Not everyone has them faring quite as well, but there are a number of factors that have me seeing great things from them this season. First of all, the addition of Craig Kimbrel to their bullpen — along with Carson Smith from the Mariners — to close out games for them will wind up being huge, in my mind. As far as their starters are concerned, placing David Price in the rotation automatically improves their chances of winning every fifth day, even though the rest of their rotation isn’t on Price’s level. The Red Sox don’t have an overly dominant pitching staff, but with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez looking to have bounceback seasons offensively in this being David Ortiz’s last season, I feel big things are ahead for Boston.

What the Yankees lack in offensive thump (besides Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez) they make up for in pitching. Their rotation and bullpen aren’t overwhelming at first glance, but they are a group of solid pitching workhorses who will post a ton of innings of good baseball all season long. With that in mind, I have the Yankees finishing second to the Red Sox, as they will likely be very competitive, but I can’t see them winning the whole division. Even so, with Masahiro Tanaka looking to have a fully healthy season, along with Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda, combined with a bullpen of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and newly acquired Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees pitching will inevitably carry them when their offense isn’t clicking. They’re basically the opposite of the Red Sox. Bottom line: The Yankees are a team that shouldn’t be overlooked, as they look to make it back to the postseason this year.

The Blue Jays have a true dream-lineup, with Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista all providing major power threats at any point in the game. But they’re missing one thing that would lead me to placing them atop the division: a strong pitching staff. Yes, they have guys like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez who look to have big futures ahead, along with veteran R.A. Dickey, but I’m not fully on board with them placing any better than third in the division. If they can find a way to pitch well day in and day out, then there is no stopping the Blue Jays from dominating the division, but there are a lot of “what ifs” with their team. After making it to the postseason for the first time in over twenty years last season, it wouldn’t shock me at all if they make it back again in 2016. But on the flip side, it wouldn’t fully shock me if they don’t make it either.

If history has taught us anything it’s that predicting how any given season will pan out is impossible. However, history has also shown that it takes a good pitching staff to make it much of anywhere in the divisional races, and I don’t see a very deep rotation or bullpen for the Orioles. They have several solid starters, from Chris Tillman to Brian Matusz, as well as newcomer Yovani Gallardo who will help them out tremendously, and their bullpen has a couple of the best relievers in baseball, with Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. But I simply don’t see them as having enough to outplay the Blue Jays, Yankees or Red Sox. Their pitchers would have to be atop their game all season long, and their lineup would also have to perform on an equally high level. But with all of that said, with guys like Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Adam Jones, it’s not entirely impossible for them to have special year, I just don’t predict it.

Someone unfortunately has to finish last in every division around baseball no matter how good their team is, and I’m placing the Rays in that slot for 2016. Putting them last was extremely hard. I could make a strong case for them outplaying the Orioles, with even somewhat long shot cases of them placing in the top three. They have a team that makes anything possible. Their rotation is better than that of the Orioles and Blue Jays, in my opinion, with guys like Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb (once he returns) and Matt Moore, but I’m not convinced that their offense, other than Evan Longoria and a few others, will be consistent enough to take on the top teams in the division. If they can score runs, they can compete with anyone. It all comes down to execution. That’s what makes them just like the other four teams in the division who I could see coming in first or dead last. It’s truly going to be that close of a race in the division.

CENTRAL

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

This is another very difficult division to decide where to place each team, but I have the Royals winning the division once again. They aren’t a very flashy team, but they do a lot extremely well. In 2015, the Royals were the king of the comeback, constantly coming back from big deficits to win games that ultimately lead to them becoming World Series champions. I feel they will be able to do that again this season. One of the biggest stories of the offseason was Alex Gordon deciding to stay with the Royals, and I feel that him sticking around will help them exponentially. Combined with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, the Royals have a good enough lineup to post a nice amount of runs. What will help the Royals win their way to the division title, however, is their bullpen, with Wade Davis helping to lead the charge. If all goes right, winning the division should be fairly easy.

Not a lot of people believe in the Tigers for 2016, but upon looking at their roster, I don’t see a spot where they are weak. Over the past few seasons, their bullpen has been one of their worst spots, but they addressed that nicely with the pickup of Francisco Rodriguez who is a proven closer that can shut down games for them. Beyond that, their rotation got a bit better, as the pickup of under the radar starter Jordan Zimmermann, to go along with Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris, should help them win a lot of games. But while their pitching staff is strong, their roster is even stronger. Miguel Cabrera will put up Cabrera-like numbers, and if Victor Martinez can have a healthy year, along with J.D. Martinez and offseason pickup Justin Upton, Detroit appears to be in good shape. If absolutely everything goes right, the Tigers could win the division. But I’m leaving them finishing in a close second.

With Chris Sale leading the way as the Ace of the staff, along with Carlos Rodon and Jose Quintana likely to have solid seasons, the White Sox appear to have a decent enough pitching rotation to win ball games in 2016. However, I don’t see it as being strong enough to overtake either the Tigers or Royals. Furthermore, I’m not fully convinced that their lineup is going to be all that spectacular either. They had one of the worst lineups in baseball last season, and while they picked up Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason, they can only help so much. Guys such as Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera and Adam Eaton will do their parts throughout the season, but I simply don’t see a way for the White Sox to finish any better than third place in the division. That’s a sharp contrast from some people around the baseball world who actually have the Sox winning the division this coming season, but I can’t place them that high in my mind.

If the Indians can get the fullest potential out of Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar this coming season, the sky is truly the limit for them. However, with that said, I’m not sure what to expect out of the Indians’ starters as a whole. Over the past few seasons, each of the aforementioned names have been dominant, but they have failed to be dominant at the same time, with a lot of inconsistency coming from them all. Additionally, although their lineup contains some big names, I simply don’t think that it will be enough to stack up against the other three teams above them on my list. Yes, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley, among others, are capable of carrying the Indians far in the season, but their overall makeup isn’t going to be consistent enough, in my opinion, to make the coming season that special of a year for the Indians.

The Minnesota Twins shocked the baseball world last season when they finished in second place in the division. But I see a drastic fall back for them in the coming year. If their rotation was stronger, I could see another good year. However, with Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes being historically inconsistent over their careers, their pitching isn’t exactly their strong suit. Where the Twins thrive is their lineup, which contains a ton of power. Miguel Sano burst onto the scene last year and was absolutely tremendous right out of the gate, with fellow sluggers Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia likely to be the key power sources of their roster. If they can get those guys going, along with Byron Buxton, who was somewhat of a disappointment upon his debut last season, then the Twins very well may prove me wrong and climb their way up the rankings. I just have a hard time seeing a scenario where that happens.

WEST

1. Astros

2. Angels

3. Rangers

4. Mariners

5. Athletics

After several years in a row of finishing the season with greater than 100 losses on the year, the Astros have finally been heading in the right direction in recent history, with them actually making the playoffs in 2015. With a starting rotation that includes 2015 Cy Young award winner, Dallas Keuchel, along with youngster Lance McCullers and newcomer Doug Fister, I really like Houston’s starters heading into the year. And their bullpen is even better. Picking up Ken Giles from the Phillies in a trade to join Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson in the bullpen, the Astros look ready to mow down opposing teams all season long. On the flip side, they also appear loaded in their lineup. While they lost slugger Chris Carter, they still have reigning Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa who looks headed for superstardom, along with Jose Altuve, Carlos Gomez and George Springer. All things together, the division title is the Astros’ to lose.

The Angels’ lineup is certainly a great mix of both veterans and young, talented players, and I think they will all come together to truly shock some people in 2016. Despite that, I don’t see them taking out the Astros for top spot in the division. Albert Pujols had a solid year last season, and Mike Trout is seemingly getting better and better as each year passes. Look for both of them to power the team towards a lot of wins, along with some help from guys such as Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron and offseason pickup Andrelton Simmons. But while I feel their offense will be okay at best, I predict their pitching to be superb in 2016. Getting a healthy Garrett Richards for this season, with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Andrew Heaney all looking to have a bounce back or breakout season, I don’t feel that any of the other three teams below the Angels on my list will be able to challenge them for the full 162-game season.

Third in my divisional standings predictions for the American League West are the Rangers, however, they could easily overtake the Angels if they don’t perform the way I’m expecting them to. For that reason alone, the Rangers are a team to watch very carefully in 2016. Although their lineup is going to be fairly good, with Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder all ready to mash in the coming year, there are too many questions with the remainder of their roster for me to extremely believe in them. Furthermore, the question marks extend beyond their lineup. They lost Yovani Gallardo to the Orioles this offseason, and although they have proven themselves in the past, Derek Holland and Yu Darvish performing at the top of their game after injuries is yet to be seen. Even so, the Rangers should be a very good ball club that may wind up just short when all is said and done.

When I look at the Mariners’ rotation heading into this season, I see a ton of talent but also a ton of question marks, much as I did with the Rangers’ lineup. Beyond Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, who will both be great all year long, Seattle’s rotation isn’t really proven enough for me to think without a doubt that they are headed for big things this year. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker have a ton of potential, and have shown flashes of greatness before, but they have been too inconsistent to have an idea of what to expect from them in 2016. Beyond their pitching, the Mariners also leave a lot to be desired in their overall lineup, as other than players such as Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, I don’t see a lot of pop in their everyday 1-9. For all of those reasons, I feel that it is going to turn out to be another disappointing season in Seattle.

Finally on my list of picks in the American League divisional races in 2016, I have the Athletics finishing at a dismal last place in the west. While the pickup of Fernando Rodney will go a long way in further improving their already decent bullpen, their starting rotation begins and ends with Sonny Gray, who I see as having another Cy Young conversation season. With the unfortunate loss of Jarrod Parker due to another arm injury, I don’t see a lot of options for their rotation that will be overpowering. More of the same holds true for the offensive side of their roster. To me, although they have a few impact bats such as Billy Butler and Josh Reddick, along with 2015 breakouts Stephen Vogt and Billy Burns, they simply don’t have good enough pitching or hitting for them to perform at a competitive level in the division they are in. Ever since losing Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the A’s just haven’t been the same.

Home Run Milestones that Should Occur in 2016

Below you’ll find a list of the home run milestones that should occur in 2016. I say should because there’s no guarantee that any given player on the list will actually reach the listed milestone. They could get injured, have a bad season, or whatever. I’ve made the same type of list the past four seasons, and they have been well-received, so I figured I’d post another one for this year.

A few of the players on the list are a tad of a stretch, as the number of homers they are away from a milestone is more than they’ve ever hit or have hit in quite some time. But overall, the players listed are a rough idea of which players to watch closely this season. In order to make the list a player has to meet the following criteria:

  1. You can’t be a pitcher. Although there are some pitchers who can hit home runs, you won’t find any on my list. Reason being is that they’re not everyday players.
  2. You have to have hit at least one home run in the major leagues. There are several dozen players going into 2016 that haven’t hit an MLB home run, but adding them to the below list just didn’t make sense.
  3. You have to be closing in on an even milestone, like 100, 200, 300, etc. I didn’t include anyone that’s a few homers away from number 50, 75, 125, etc. It just didn’t seem necessary.

With that said, the list is organized by player name, team, milestone they’re going for, and how many home runs they are from that particular milestone:

2016 Home Run Milestones

James Loney, Rays — Home Run Number 100 (1 home run away)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Tigers — Home Run Number 100 (2 home runs away)

Bryce Harper, Nationals — Home Run Number 100 (3 home runs away)

Jason Heyward, Cubs — Home Run Number 100 (3 home runs away)

Seth Smith, Mariners — Home Run Number 100 (3 home runs away)

David Ross, Cubs — Home Run Number 100 (4 home runs away)

Kyle Seager, Mariners — Home Run Number 100 (4 home runs away)

Matt Joyce, Pirates — Home Run Number 100 (7 home runs away)

Neil Walker, Mets — Home Run Number 100 (7 home runs away)

Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees — Home Run Number 100 (12 home runs away)

Mitch Moreland, Rangers — Home Run Number 100 (12 home runs away)

Josh Reddick, Athletics — Home Run Number 100 (14 home runs away)

J.D. Martinez, Tigers — Home Run Number 100 (15 home runs away)

Eric Hosmer, Royals — Home Run Number 100 (23 home runs away)

Nolan Arenado, Rockies — Home Run Number 100 (30 home runs away)

Manny Machado, Orioles — Home Run Number 100 (32 home runs away)

Jose Abreu, White Sox — Home Run Number 100 (34 home runs away)

Jayson Werth, Nationals — Home Run Number 200 (2 home runs away)

Adam Jones, Orioles — Home Run Number 200 (4 home runs away)

Hunter Pence, Giants — Home Run Number 200 (6 home runs away)

Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals — Home Run Number 200 (6 home runs away)

Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays — Home Run Number 200 (7 home runs away)

Juan Uribe, Indians — Home Run Number 200 (8 home runs away)

Joey Votto, Reds — Home Run Number 200 (8 home runs away)

Justin Upton, Tigers — Home Run Number 200 (10 home runs away)

Brandon Phillips, Reds — Home Run Number 200 (14 home runs away)

Ian Kinsler, Tigers — Home Run Number 200 (16 home runs away)

Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins — Home Run Number 200 (19 home runs away)

Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies — Home Run Number 200 (24 home runs away)

Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers — Home Run Number 300 (10 home runs away)

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays — Home Run Number 300 (16 home runs away)

Matt Holliday, Cardinals — Home Run Number 300 (25 home runs away)

Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays — Home Run Number 300 (32 home runs away)

Mark Teixeira, Yankees — Home Run Number 400 (6 home runs away)

Carlos Beltran, Yankees — Home Run Number 400 (8 home runs away)

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees — Home Run Number 700 (13 home runs away)

Bryce Harper Speaks Out for More Emotion

The regular season is still several weeks away and Bryce Harper is already making headlines across baseball. Not for an amazing throw or catch, or even a mammoth homer out of the ballpark. Instead, Harper is being talked about for his recent comments on baseball’s unwritten rules that involve one of the game’s touchiest topics: emotion.

HarperIn recent seasons, certain players have taken some heat for showing emotion on the field after making a game-changing play. Guys who have taken their sweet time rounding the bases after a home run, such as David Ortiz, or pitchers who have pumped their fist in celebration of a big time strikeout, i.e. Jose Fernandez, have had a negative light put upon them by opposing teams and fans alike.

Because of this, Bryce Harper (who has also been criticized numerous times for his emotional gameplay) took a very verbal stance recently, opposing those who feel individual celebration and emotion have no place in baseball, saying, “It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself . . . I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair.”

I’m not sure I agree with Harper in going as far as to say baseball is a tired sport. I for one think baseball is more exciting than ever, with players getting seemingly more and more talented each season, and subsequently posting some unbelievable numbers. But I do agree with him that it’s time for emotion to find a place in baseball, assuming the situation calls for it (I don’t want to see celebrating after a bases-empty single), as it is a natural reaction as a human being to have some sort of emotional display after doing what is essentially your job as a big leaguer: to help your team win.

What’s become tired to me is isn’t the sport, as Harper suggests, but players allowing their feeling to be hurt so easily because the opposing team’s batter took too long to circle the bases on a home run or stood and watched the ball for too long, resulting in them being plunked in their next at-bat as a form of retaliation. That’s what is making baseball a tired sport.

Not surprisingly, however, some players don’t agree with Harper’s words (or my opinions). San Francisco Giant’s reliever, Sergio Romo, stated, in response to Harper’s comments, that there is undoubtedly ways to show emotion without showing up the other side. But I find that hard to envision. Inevitably, there will always be someone who views another player’s celebratory action as uncalled for, no matter how innocent the intention may have been. That’s the way the world works, so players might as well just do their thing and not care what anyone thinks.

But while guys such as Bryce Harper obviously couldn’t care less what people think or say about them, I imagine they Bautistado care what opposing pitchers do in retaliation. In the recent past, as previously touched upon, it’s been common “tradition” to get back at a team who had a player celebrate a home run or big play by drilling another player — usually the superstar player — with a fastball. Giving every player the okay to be themselves and celebrate would hopefully cut down on these over the top retaliations.

Baseball has long been a sport of tradition, and while I’m all for that, I think baseball also needs to grow with the times. There is a rule in the official Major League Baseball rule book that states that players aren’t allowed to fraternize with opposing players at any point before, during or after the game; yet players are laughing and joking with each other from the time they take the field until the last out. The game has historically changed with the times, and we have reached a new point in that timeline.

Recent changes to the written rules have seen second basemen being protected from takeout slides, as well as advanced instant replay rules being put into place to help get calls correct. In my mind, it’s time for the unwritten rules to be looked at as well. I don’t want things to go as far as players dancing after every base hit, but I don’t think things will reach that point. All that players such as Harper are asking is that they be allowed to show off their talent while having fun with it all.

Emotion takes baseball players back to their little league days when baseball was simply just a game. That emotion is needed in baseball, not because “showing up” the opposing team is a good thing, but because baseball is a much better sport when players are being genuine with who they are and the way they are feeling.

As Bryce Harper put it, it’s time players showed their “flair”.

Q and A With Josh Hader

Josh Hader was drafted by the Orioles in the 19th round of the 2012 draft, after going 10-0 with a 0.39 ERA and 125 strikeouts his senior year at Old Mill High School in Maryland.

HaderSince the draft, Hader has switched organizations twice, going to the Astros in 2013 and being traded once again to the Brewers this past season. However, all the transitioning has seemingly had little impact on Hader and his ability to post stellar stats. In 2015 alone, Hader recorded a 3.03 ERA with 119 strikeouts over 104 innings pitched and held batters to a mere .224 batting average.

Due to his consistently good numbers, Hader has seen a steady climb in the overall prospect rankings, winding up all the way at number 61 in all of baseball heading into this season.

With a fastball in the mid-to-upper nineties, an above average slider and a work in progress changeup, Hader could be seeing time at the major league level in the very near future if everything continues to go as planned.

Josh Hader — top prospect in the Brewers’ 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 started playing baseball at the age of 3. My father got me interested in the game, and I fell in love with it.

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

I loved Randy Johnson — watching him on the mound and attacking hitters.

3.) You were drafted by the Orioles in the 12th round of the 2012 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was a wild experience — a lot of emotion going through the process. I was actually headed to Camden Yards for the high school senior All-Star ceremony, and I got a call saying I had been chosen by the Orioles in the 19th round. Everything kind of stopped. I definitely felt like my truck was floating in the air. The next day I played at Camden Yards for the All-Star game and was able to throw in front of Buck [Showalter].

4.) When you were in high school, your fastball sat in the upper 80’s, but after being drafted you saw a jump to the mid 90’s. What do you attribute to such a rapid burst in your overall velocity?

That’s one of the most asked questions I get. All I can think of is being on a set program long tossing, keeping my upper body loose and throwing everyday. Having me grow into my body also helped. I started to gain more weight and was on a set weight program which helped me build leg strength.

5.) Back in 2013, you were traded from the Orioles to the Astros organization, and in 2015 you were sent to the Brewers. Being traded midseason each time, what overall impact did the swap have on your mentality and effectiveness for the remainder of each particular season?

Being traded the first time, it was different, but very easy for me because the guys at the time from the Astros were very welcoming and helped me transition easier. We were a winning team and had one thing in mind, and that was to win games. Being traded the second time with guys I knew helped out because you at least know some guys. If anything, being traded midseason helped, because you get the couple of extra days rest, so it gets your arm a little more amp.

6.) After a great 2015 season, you were sent to the Arizona Fall League where you had a terrific showing, winning the ERA title with a mere 0.56 ERA. What was the overall experience of the Arizona Fall League like? What type of things did you work on most during your time out there?

Going to the AFL helped me out a lot, being able to get some extra time to work on my changeup and slider. The slider — I changed the grip midseason, so it was a whole new feel. In the AFL the slider became one of the bigger pitches for me. Being able to pitch against the best of the best there also helped me because I knew 1-9, everyone could do damage. It helped me be able to work hitters and made me throw offspeeds behind in the count, and made me keep the hitters off balance.

7.) When you began your career, you were used solely as a relief pitcher, but were switched to a full time starter in 2013 before being used as both a starter and reliever again over each of the past two seasons. How do you go about making an effective transition between starting and relieving throughout the season? 

The biggest thing is the warm up before the game as a starter you have a routine you go through and you have time to get ready, but as a reliever you don’t have that luxury of the pre game warm up. No matter the role the job still stays the same, doesn’t matter if it’s the 1st or last inning, you have to get hitters out and keep the game in our team’s favor.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

Changing where I stood on the mound and my slider grip was the best thing for me in 2015. It made all of my pitches become much better and easier for me to command. My goal for 2016 is to be in the big leagues and to keep the same momentum going into this year.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Spaghetti would have to my favorite food hands down. [For TV show], any hunting show on the outdoor channel. 

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

To never give up on the game; to always work hard, because you never know who is watching you play. Never take the game for granted because it goes by so fast. Always have fun playing. It’s a kid’s game no matter how old you get.  

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Big thanks to Josh Hader for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @jhader17

Ten Players Who Need to Have a Good 2016 Season

Each and every season, there are always players with something to prove. Whether they’re looking to show that they can play at a competitive level that they’ve never lived up to; looking to show that they can be the dominant player they once were; or simply are looking for a good year for their team to have a successful year — there are numerous players that you could categorize as having a very important season coming up when things begin in around a month.

With all of that said, not every player that needs a good 2016 season is on the list I put together below. I can think of a couple dozen players that arguably need to post solid numbers in 2016, but I couldn’t include them all, and had to make some difficult exclusions. Just the opposite, there could be a few players on my list that you don’t think need a good season. Either way, this is just a list of ten players — not necessarily the “top ten” — that I feel need a good 2016 season for one reason or another:

1) Giancarlo Stanton

In 2015, Giancarlo Stanton got off to a superstar start. Blasting 27 home runs in his first 74 games, Stanton posted numbers equal to what you would expect out of a player with a 325 million dollar contract. However, things quickly came to a halt for yet another season when Stanton suffered an injury that would see him missing the remainder of the year. While Stanton’s ability to put up historic numbers is absolutely there (Stanton holds 50+ homer potential), he needs to stay on the field in order to produce in historic fashion. With the Marlins standing the slightest of chances to compete with the division favorite rival Nationals and Mets, they need every single player on their roster performing to the best of their ability, and that includes Stanton more than anyone else.

2) Jonathan PapelbonPapelbon

Over the course of the past few seasons, Jonathan Papelbon has very quietly remained one of the top relievers in baseball, and he had a great season in 2015. For that reason, poor stats aren’t the reason Papelbon needs a good year in 2016; it’s his personality that needs to become part of the past. Quite simply, Papelbon can be a distraction to any team he’s on, and has had his share of controversy over his career. The biggest example of that came just last season, when a dugout altercation between Papelbon and Bryce Harper ended up seeing Papelbon’s hands around Harper’s neck. Therefore, although he is a valuable part of the Nationals’ bullpen, with a 2.13 ERA last season, Papelbon needs a good, drama-free upcoming season to put the past in the past for good.

3) Yu Darvish

When Yu Darvish came to the United States for the 2012 season, he had a ton of hype hung over him as to the kind of pitcher he was back in Japan. In his rookie season, Darvish lived up to the high praise, and was even better in 2013. But after another great season in 2014, Darvish was shut down due to an arm injury which resulted in a subsequent Tommy John surgery that kept him out of the Rangers’ rotation all of last season. With that said, Darvish appears to have successfully rehabbed from the surgery and should help out the Rangers a great deal once he returns around May. After amazingly squeaking their way into the postseason last year, if the Rangers can get a fully healthy Darvish that performs the way he did to begin his career, they could be looking at a special season.

4) Ryan Howard

Of all of the players on my list, Ryan Howard is the only player who was on my 2015 version of this blog post. But he may also be the one who needs a good season the most — for his sake alone. Howard is essentially the last remaining player of what was once a Phillies dynasty that included the likes of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels, but he is most likely in his final season in Philly. With a vast number of talented youngsters in the minors just a season or two away from cracking the big leagues, this very well could be the last shot for Howard to prove that he can still perform at a high level. Although he hit 23 homers last season, he has failed to hit 30 or more since back in 2011. The Phillies aren’t predicted to do much this coming season, but hopefully Ryan Howard will emerge as the bright spot.

Sandoval5) Pablo Sandoval

In Pablo Sandoval’s six full seasons with the Giants, he was one of the top slugging third basemen in baseball. For that reason, the Red Sox locked him up on a 5-year, 95 million dollar contract beginning last season, but he failed to live up to expectations. In 2015, Sandoval recorded a career low in batting average, RBI’s and home runs, leaving many looking for him to take things up a notch this season. But after reporting to Spring Training in subpar shape, your guess is as good mine for how Sandoval will fare in 2016. Perhaps 2015 was a mere fluke and Sandoval will return to his former All-Star self. Only time will truly tell if he can make the last four years of his contract worth the Red Sox while. But with the Red Sox looking to make another playoff push in 2016, Sandoval needs to be a big part of their team.

6) Yoenis Cespedes

A quick glimpse at Yoenis Cespedes’s stats from 2015 would undoubtedly leave you wondering how I could place him on a list of players who need a good season this coming year. Hitting .291 with 35 home runs and 105 RBI’s last year, there’s absolutely nothing more that could be asked of Cespedes; especially from the Mets, who acquired Cespedes for the second half and proceeded to make a run to the World Series. Even so, he needs a really good year equal to his most recent one for the Mets to hold off the Nationals, who, despite losing some key pieces, will still likely be very competitive this year. Without Cespedes and his superstar numbers, the Mets still hold a good chance at another playoff run. But with him performing well, it’s all but a guarantee in the minds of many.

7) Shelby Miller

As with Yoenis Cespedes, Shelby Miller had a career year in 2015, but still managed to make his way onto my list. After a few under the radar seasons with the Cardinals, Miller proceeded to breakout as one of the best young starters in all of baseball last season. Posting a 3.02 ERA over 33 starts, Miller found himself as a very valuable asset — so much so that he was traded for 2015 number one overall draft pick Dansby Swanson during the offseason. Joining fellow newcomer, Zack Greinke, in the Diamondbacks’ rotation, there are a lot of expectations out of the D-backs in 2016. Thus, Miller needs to post numbers similar to — if not better than — the ones he recorded last year. If he can do that alongside Greinke, the D-backs could be in for a major turnaround in Phoenix.

8) CC SabathiaMLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles

The past three seasons have been fairly rough for CC Sabathia. Posting the best ERA of those seasons this past year of 4.73 is enough to prove just how bad things have been (not even including his off-the-field battles). However, there is seemingly hope for Sabathia in 2016, with many people even going as far as to envision him becoming the comeback player of the year. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of uncertainty moving forward for Sabathia, though. At 35 years old, and with his best numbers likely in the past, Sabathia is in need of a good season to get his career back on track. The Yankees actually have a fairly good team heading into this season, but it is going to take a team effort, including solid numbers from Sabathia, for them to get any sort of postseason run together.

9) Wil Myers

Going from former first round draft pick and top five prospect in all of baseball to an injury-plagued player who has yet to live up fully to the type of numbers many predicted he would post, Wil Myers needs a fully healthy 2016 to show what he’s truly capable of. Myers showed a glimpse at his potential back when he first came up in 2013 with the Rays, going on to win the Rookie of the Year award, and theoretically has 30+ homer power, if he can only find a way to tap into it. This season with the Padres, Myers is making the switch to first base full time, so hopefully some stability will allow him to get into the zone for the length of the season. Having yet to play even 100 games in a single season over his career, Myers could finally break through if he can simply play the majority of games this coming year.

10) Matt Moore

Possessing all the talent in the world, this is a make-or-break season for Matt Moore in my mind. Although he has shown flashes of greatness over his career, Moore suffered an arm injury that lead to him having to undergo Tommy John surgery in 2014. Following his return this past season, Moore was a bit shaky, posting a 5.43 ERA on the year and spending a good bit of time down in the minor leagues in an attempt to re-establish his dominance. The Rays need him to return to form in order for Tampa to compete in the strong American League East division. Although not everyone sees the Rays doing much of anything in 2016, there are some who are predicting big things. For me, it all comes down to their starting pitching, with Moore being a big key to that success.

Darwin Barney Shines In Spring Training Kickoff

The first game of the 2016 Major League Baseball Spring Training month of March saw the Philadelphia Phillies taking on the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday afternoon. While these games don’t count in the standings and show no definite signs of how any team will fare in the regular season, you have to figure that the Blue Jays (they won 5-2) are headed for another postseason run,Barney with Philadelhia on the flip side still in the process of rebuilding.

Even so, if it wasn’t for one player in Toronto’s lineup, things may have turned out quite differently on the day. Darwin Barney is currently still batting a thousand in the books, after going 3-3 with five total RBI’s for the game. Although you can’t take such a quick start as a sign of things to come, especially with pitchers not at the top of their game yet, it is certainly nice to see for Barney.

After being a regular player for the Cubs from 2011 through 2013, Barney hasn’t been able to stay consistent in the majors since being traded to the Dodgers in 2014. Spending nearly 100 games in the minors last season before being traded to the Blue Jays, Barney wasn’t with Toronto long enough to be eligable for their postseason push, which was obviously disappointing for him.

But if game one of Spring Training is any inclination, Darwin Barney looks to be on a mission to become an everyday player again in the big leagues, with ultimate hopes of still playing big time games come October.

2016 Final MLB Standings Predictions

It’s finally March 1st, which means Spring Training games are officially here.

Over the course of the next few days, each and every team around Major League Baseball will put their club on display in live games for the first time in 2016. With some teams being completely different than they were last season — some have improved, some have gotten worse — it gives fans the chance to see glimpses of what to expect and look forward to when the regular season begins next month, even though Spring games have proven to not provide much standing as to how the regular season will go.

As has been the case over the course of this blog, March also brings my predictions and overall thoughts leading up to the new year in baseball. This year will prove to be no different.

But to kick things off, I’m going to allow you, the reader, to let your opinions be known by giving you the opportunity to vote for which team you think has the best shot at winning each division. (Be sure to vote for all six, and not just the top few.) I’m going to be doing a separate couple of blog posts (one for the American League and one for the National League) on my predictions for how I feel each team will fare this season sometime in the last week of the month, but for now, I want to hear what you all think.

Cast your vote below for which team you feel is most likely to win each division in 2016:

Blogging Plans As Spring Training Games Grow Closer

With less than a week until baseball games are once again being played down in Florida and Arizona as part of Major League Baseball’s annual Spring Training, the topics surrounding the coming season are growing by the day. March 1st is set to be the first of a month of matchups between teams in both the Cactus League and the Grapefruit League, and with them will inevitably come numerous takeaways and subsequent predictions regarding the 2016 regular season.Spring

As a baseball fan, I myself have several predictions of my own for what I feel will unfold over the course of this season. Although some of those things will undoubtedly fail to come true, I still find it enjoyable to lay out some of my thoughts this time of year as to what’s to come. With that in mind, I thought I’d discuss a brief overview of what’s to come from this blog as the season inches closer over this final month.

Although a lot of the things I write about will be related to news that is impossible to foresee, the first post of the month is going to give the readers a chance to let their opinions be known. As I’ve done for the past several seasons, I’ll be uploading a post with polls that let you all vote for which team you feel stands the best chance at winning each division in 2016. It’s always fun to see what people from around the baseball world have to say regarding those polls.

Once that is up, I’ll be publishing a blog post revealing the players who are likely to reach a home run milestone in the coming season, which winds up being an interesting post to look at in order to see what to look forward to from some talented players in the year to come. In addition, I plan to publish two more interviews at some point in the first and last weeks of the month, with both of them being with really talented pitchers; as well as a post on my own predictions for each team individually, regarding their fate in the standings at season’s end.

However, while all of those posts are planned out, as previously stated, the majority of the things I write about in March will simply be about whatever is going on around baseball at that point in time. Like the coming season, anything can truly happen.

Q and A With Scooter Gennett

Scooter Gennett was drafted by the Brewers in the 16th round of the 2009 draft, after hitting .470 his senior year at Sarasota High School.

GennettMaking a steady climb through the minors from 2010 through 2013 — including an appearance in the 2012 Futures Game in Kansas City — Gennett debuted at the big league level in June of 2013. By batting .324 with 6 homers and 21 RBI’s over 69 games his rookie year, Gennett set himself up nicely to be a big part of the Brewers moving forward.

Gennett once again had a solid year in 2014, where he hit 9 home runs with the Brewers to go along with 54 RBI’s. However, this past year not everything went quite as smoothly as the previous two seasons for Gennett, with him hitting a few rough spots throughout the year.

Following an unfortunate freak injury to begin the season, Gennett proceeded to produce subpar numbers for the Brewers, leading to him being sent down to the minors midseason. But despite the setback, Gennett was quickly brought back up to finish out the end of the year in Milwaukee, and wound up with 6 homers and 29 RBI’s for the season.

While 2015 was a somewhat down year for Scooter Gennett, he should see a bounce back to his former self in 2016. If everything goes as planned, he is likely to be the everyday second baseman for the Brewers all of this upcoming season.

Scooter Gennett — second baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers — 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 got into baseball when I was 2 years old. My dad and I would play all the time, and he started teaching me everything about the game. I’d say he was my biggest influence in the sense that he taught me everything I know.

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

My favorite baseball player was always Barry Larkin. As a small kid growing up in Cincinnati, I admired how he played the game. He was a professional and took the time to say hi to young kids like myself. I really respected him for that.

3.) You were drafted by the Brewers in the 16th round of the 2009 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

Well, to be honest, I thought I would have gone sooner. So as an 18 year old, I was pretty upset [laughs]. But I was with my family and girlfriend (now wife) at our house listening to the whole draft on a laptop. Once I finally heard my name, I was excited and just ready to get my career started.

4.) Your official full name is Ryan Joseph Gennett, but are known as Scooter around the baseball world. While you’ve told the story a few times before, for those who don’t know, briefly retell how you received the nickname Scooter that has stuck with you ever since.

I was a bad kid and didn’t listen very often, especially in the car. I would always undo my car seat belt while my mom was driving, so she would have to stop the car and get out. One day she wanted to teach me a lesson on seatbelt safety and scare some sense into me. So when I was like 4 years old she pulled into a police station where an officer came over to talk to me. When the officer asked me what my name was, I thought I was getting arrested so I quickly thought of an alias, Scooter Gennett, named after my favorite muppet babies character “Scooter”. I didn’t respond to Ryan at all for about a year after the incident, afraid that I would still get in trouble, so Scooter just stuck around.

5.) After a couple of good seasons in the minors in 2010 and 2011, you were selected to take part in the 2012 Futures Game in Kansas City. What was that experience like?

Being in the Futures Game was really a great honor. To know that I was selected to play amongst the best talent was just a really amazing feeling.

6.) Over the course of your Major League career, you’ve hit .307 against righties but just .123 against lefties. As a left handed batter, how do you differ your overall approach when facing southpaw pitchers? Is there anything you’re working on to attempt to improve your production against lefties?

I can only hope I get the opportunity to face more lefty starters this year to show what I can do. Throughtout the minors I never had a problem with lefties, and I know I can hit them. Like anything, I just need consistent at bats against them. It’s the consistency that is key.

7.) In 2015, you were placed on the disabled list early in the year, and after a somewhat poor return you were sent down to the minors for around a month before being recalled. What was your overall take regarding being sent down? Did that experience change the way you go about every day in the majors now?

Being sent down last year just really showed me to enjoy everyday in the big leagues and to do my best everyday. You really never know when your last game might be, so enjoy every moment you have playing at that level because it really is such a blessing. I wouldn’t say I worked harder when I got sent down. It was just a reminder to do the very best you can everyday. That goes for life in general, also.

8.) What do you feel went well for you in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

I feel my attitude was good in 2015, especially while getting sent down. I think that went well for me, and I am going to continue keeping a positive outlook. My goals for 2016 are just to play everyday and stay healthy!

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I’m a Netflix guy. I watch a movie every night before bed, and I will literally give any movie a shot. As for a show I’m just now watching, ‘The Bible’ series on Netflix is pretty awesome. My favorite food is definitely beef tips and noodles — yummy.

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

I would tell kids that if baseball is in their heart, to never give up on their dreams. No matter how many people tell you you can’t do something or you will never make it, if you want something bad enough you can achieve any goal! It’s all about having faith and the right mindset.

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Big thanks to Scooter Gennett for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @Sgennett2

Impact Players Still Teamless As Spring 2016 Begins

Although games aren’t scheduled to be played until March 1st, for every baseball fan Spring Training officially begins when pitchers and catchers first report. Five clubs saw their pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday, with the remaining teams’ hurlers and backstops trickling in over the next few days, leaving every team with their respective pitchers and catchers in camp by Sunday. Print

Therefore, baseball is finally back.

But for a number of free agent players who have yet to find homes so far this offseason, Spring Training is going to have to wait — at least for now. Before they can report to a camp, every free agent needs to come to terms with a team that they’ll wind up calling home for the 2016 season.

Given, there’s still over a month until the regular season, and most if not all of the free agents will sign before too long. But time is slowly running out. With that in mind, I thought I’d go over the free agent players still on the market, position by position, who are more than capable of still helping out a big league club, but have yet to sign for one reason or another.

Beginning with the starting pitching role, the best remaining free agent starter who remains up for grabs is Yovani Gallardo. While Gallardo has been linked to talks with the Orioles, he is still technically in play for all thirty clubs. Although he isn’t going to be the ace of any team’s staff, Gallardo is still a really good pitcher who you can count on for numerous innings (180+ for each of the past seven seasons) and will give his team a chance to win each and every night.

Appropriately following the starting pitcher in this post is the relief pitcher, with there being several quality reliever options remaining. The one that stands out the most to me, however, is Casey Janssen. He didn’t have the best season in 2015, but a three year stretch from 2011-2013 saw him as one of the best relievers in the game. With him holding a career ERA of Morneau3.63, Janssen doesn’t immediately jump off the page, but he can be an asset to a number of teams.

Justin Morneau leads the pack of available free agent first basemen. After a 17-homer season back in 2014, Morneau only played in 49 games last season due to injuries which ultimately held his numbers down. But I look for Morneau to have a bounce back season in 2016, if he can be healthy. Although his days of dominating the first base position are likely over, the days of him being a solid player definitely aren’t.

At second base, the only free agent left is Dan Uggla, making him the only option to discuss. I’m not sure what the future holds for Uggla, who was once one of the best second baseman in baseball. Uggla blasted 30+ homers for five straight seasons early in his career and has been an impactful player, but he hasn’t had a very productive season since 2013. However, with all of that said, Uggla could surprise some people if given a chance.

David Freese manning the hot corner is something any team would want to see, but for some reason he has yet to be signed. Freese is a reliable third baseman who you can count on year in and year out to hit double digit homers and drive in runs in the majority of key situations. After all, Freese was the reason the Cardinals survived game six of the 2011 World Series and ultimately went on to win. He falls under the low risk, high reward type of player, and would be a nice pickup for any team.

The shortstop position is currently one of the weaker spots as far as free agents is concerned, but Ian Desmond is the big player of the group. Following a somewhat mixed departure from the Nationals, where Trea Turner looks ready to take over the shortstop role, Desmond has been linked to a number of teams this offseason but has yet to land anywhere. Even so, Desmond is still a valuable player, coming just one homer shy in 2015 of a fourth straight 20+ home run year.Fowler

As far as the outfield, there are a number of above average free agents still there for the taking. Looking merely at the position as a whole — not individually at right, left and center — the the top three free agent outfielders in my mind are Austin Jackson, Dexter Fowler and Marlon Byrd. They’re each mid-to-upper .200’s career hitters, and each had solid 2015 campaigns. For that reason, while they still remain without a team to call home, chances are they won’t be that way for long and will have some amount of impact this coming season.

Despite every position previously mentioned having players available to sign, if your favorite team is in need of a catcher, they’ll have to look for other options besides free agency. There are no remaining catchers on the market, making it the only position without a single player left. However, there are more than plenty of other positions to snag above average players from that can impact any roster.

As history has shown, the majority of free agents always wind up signing with a team, even if it takes until the very last second to do so. But now that Spring Training is upon us, they no longer have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for the right offer and the right time to arrive. With spring being the time teams find themselves and form chemistry each year, the time for free agents to begin their final pushes towards signing is now.

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