Results tagged ‘ Major League Baseball ’

Baseball Returns With a Three-Game Slate

It’s been a little over five months since the last non-exhibition Major League Baseball game was played, but meaningful baseball is finally taking place again today (Opening Day, part one). After a month of Spring Training games, six of baseball’s thirty teams are scheduled to dual it out over the course of this afternoon and evening, with the remaining twenty-four squads playing their opening games on Monday.Opening Day

Game one of the regular season is set to kick off at 1:05, and sees the Cardinals taking on the Pirates in a National League Central battle. Francisco Liriano and Adam Wainwright are the scheduled starters for the contest, leaving little to doubt that it will be a great game. With the NL Central likely to be a very close race throughout the coming 162 games, it’s never been more important to get off to a good start against a division rival.

The second game on the docket for today is another divisional faceoff, as the Blue Jays are going up against their American League East counterpart Rays. While the Rays aren’t predicted to hold up against Toronto in the long run, anything can happen in the first game of the year. On the mound for Tampa is Chris Archer, with Marcus Stroman toeing the rubber for the Jays. It will likely be a fun one to watch, with this game beginning at 4:05 in the afternoon.

But while the previous two games are sure to be exciting and well worth watching, the one I’m going to be watching the closest and am looking forward to the most is the World Series rematch between the Mets and the Royals at 8:37. Game five of the Fall Classic way back on November 1st saw Matt Harvey starting for the Mets, with Edinson Volquez setting the tone for Kansas City, which just so happens to be the pitching matchup for tonight. For that reason, this should wind up being an unbelievable game.

As we all know, the Royals walked away World Series champions over the Mets in 2015, however, that was last season. It’s a new year, and with it comes new opportunities for each and every team around baseball. The road to the World Series starts with game one, and the first week always promises excitement from teams and individual players around baseball, as they all look to get off to hot starts.

Let the season begin.

Sandoval to Start Opening Day . . . On the Bench

When the Boston Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, 95 million dollar contract heading into the 2015 season, all signs pointed towards him continuing to add to his historically good career statistics that he had posted over the previous six seasons in San Francisco.Sandoval

With the Giants, Sandoval hit twelve or more homers, recorded at least 63 RBI’s and notched a batting average in the mid to upper .200’s from 2009 to 2014, before signing with the Red Sox in November of 2014. With that kind of track record, things were looking bright at third base in Boston.

But it all completely fell apart for ‘The Panda’ last season, when he really struggled offensively, hitting just .245 on the year, with career lows of just ten homers and 47 RBI’s. However, it was his poor defense at third, leading to fifteen errors, that really stood out; and that is ultimately going to keep him on the bench to begin 2016.

After two All-Star game selections and three World Series rings with the Giants, Sandoval will be on the outside looking in to begin his eighth full season in the bigs. Instead, it’s standout 2015 rookie, Travis Shaw, who received the nod from manager John Farrell to start Opening Day at the hot corner.

Following a debut season of thirteen home runs over the course of just 65 games, Shaw hit the ground running in Florida’s Grapefruit League this year, recording an average well above .300, and playing a great defense at third — much better Shawthan that of Sandoval.

However, Sandoval seems at peace with the decision for him to not start game one of the year, and fully believes he can turn things around, saying, “It was the right decision to help the team win. I’m going to be ready during the season to do my job out there.”

Nonetheless, there are many people around the baseball world who don’t hold the same level of hope for Sandoval. Showing up at Spring Training around a month ago extremely out of shape, and with rumors flying that Sandoval may wind up being traded in the near future, there is no guarantee that things will ever be the same for Sandoval, at least with the Red Sox.

Now that Shaw has been given the opportunity to play everyday at third base, I see him thriving there and keeping Sandoval from regaining his role there much at all. It will certainly be interesting to see how it all pans out.

Opening Day for the Red Sox is now less than 100 hours away, set for Monday, April 4th, up in Cleveland against the Indians. But for Pablo Sandoval, the season will begin with him serving a role similar to the 38,000 fans expected to pack the ballpark: a mere spectator.

Q and A With Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly was drafted by the Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft, despite recording a 5.65 ERA his final year at the University of California-Riverside.

Joe KellyFollowing the draft, Kelly performed well in the minors and made a steady progression through the ranks from 2009 to 2012, earning a mid season call up in 2012 to the Cardinals, where he proceeded to post a 3.53 ERA over the course of 107 innings pitched.

Kelly had a terrific following year in 2013 with the Cardinals, recording a 2.69 ERA over 124 innings and looked to be on his way to becoming one of the Cardinals’ top pitching options in their rotation. But after a 4.37 ERA seven game start to the 2014 season, Kelly was traded to the Red Sox where he has remained ever since.

The 2015 season saw Kelly take the mound for the Red Sox 25 times, but his outings varied in consistency and his overall results were subpar. Following the up and down year, Kelly was shut down for the final portion of last season due to shoulder soreness, after a cumulative 4.82 ERA.

Despite the poor year for Kelly in 2015 and subsequent talks that he may be moved to the bullpen full time, many people still feel that he can turn things around to become an effective major league starting pitcher once again. After all, he still owns a decent career ERA of 3.82, and there have been plenty of signs in the past that he has the potential to still pan out.

Joe Kelly — pitcher for the Boston Red Sox — 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 most interested when I was about 5 years old. Growing up, my biggest influences were my parents. They were always so supportive and loving.

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

My favorite baseball player was Ken Griffey Jr. He was the best player in the league. Everyone loves a winner.

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

It was an awesome feeling. I was with my family and closest friends at a local pizza parlor. It was also my 21st birthday, and we had a great time celebrating all night.

4.) You made it to the World Series in 2013 with the Cardinals, and started game three. What was that overall experience like for you?

Being in the World Series is a great experience that I will never forget. I can’t wait to hopefully make it back and get a ring.

5.) For the Cardinals, you pitched in around 70 games before being traded to the Red Sox midseason in 2014. What were the biggest differences you noticed about switching to pitching in the American League? How difficult was it to make the transition during the season?

The biggest difference is that you don’t get to face the pitcher hitting. You actually have to focus on the number nine hitter and work for your out. It was hard in the middle of the season, because it was such short notice. I had to live in the hotel for two months in Boston.

6.) Throughout your career in the minors and majors, you’ve made the switch back and forth between the bullpen and starting rotation numerous times. How do you enable yourself to thrive in whatever role you are placed in?

I just try to keep pitching simple, whether it’s in the pen or being a starter.

7.) The Red Sox made the major additions of David Price and Craig Kimbrel this past offseason to bolster your rotation and bullpen. How do you feel their presence will impact the overall makeup of the Red Sox in 2016?

I think we have a really good team, and should compete for the top spot in the AL East. Adding those two guys is huge. They are great teammates and leaders. I can’t wait to play with them.

8.) After a somewhat poor start to 2015, you won eight consecutive starts from August through September before being shut down due to shoulder soreness. What do you feel you were doing differently that allowed you so much success?

I just started to locate my fastball with more consistency and mixed my off speed pitches well. I hope that I will pick up right where I left off at last season.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite show is ‘Breaking Bad’, and favorite food is ‘In-N-Out’.

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 to just have fun, throw the ball as hard as you can and swing as hard as you can. You can always teach proper mechanics later on in life.

—————————————————————————

Big thanks to Joe Kelly for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @JosephKellyJr

Takeaways as Spring Training Winds Down

As history has shown us, Spring Training virtually means nothing when it comes to projecting how any given team or player will fare when the regular season actually rolls around. Spring

In season’s past, teams that “won” their leagues in the Spring wound up finishing in last place when the games actually mattered, with the opposite holding true for other teams that had poor Spring Trainings. The same applies to players, some of which vastly underperform or overperform in the Spring but return to their expected selves when April begins. For that reason, looking at the standings and stats is useless.

But that doesn’t stop me from checking them out anyhow. With Spring Training nearly over, and regular season games set to begin on April 3rd, I figured I’d share some of the things I took away from a quick glimpse at the standings and stats of teams and players around the baseball world.

The Mets and Cardinals are expected to do big things in their given divisions in 2016, but you wouldn’t reach that conclusion from peering at their Spring record. Each is well below .500, despite individual players on both teams shining at times. But that will inevitably change when the year actually begins.

On the flip side of things, the Phillies have a great record in the Grapefruit League, with the Rockies and Brewers doing well in the Cactus League side of things. But although they are outplaying other teams to this point, none of them are expected to do much of anything this season, with a last place division finish possible for each of them when all is said and done.

Individually, player’s stats can also be somewhat misleading.

PeraltaDavid Peralta and Christian Yelich — each of which were terrific in 2015 and have the ability to hit for a very high average — are ice cold thus far in Spring Training. However, they should easily turn things around when the true games begin. Likewise, as far as pitchers are concerned, veterans Jake Peavy and Jeff Samardzija haven’t faired much better than Peralta or Yelich, as each is doing horrible this Spring. But fortunately for them, the likelihood that all of these players continue to perform at such a low level is extremely low.

So if your favorite team or player is having a terrible Spring Training, don’t panic — at least not just yet. Theses things always seem to find a way of working out. But all the same, don’t set your hopes too high on a player or team who is putting up stellar numbers but is expected to do poorly this year. It likely won’t be able to last over the long 162-game year.

But then again, that’s why the games are played. Anything is truly possible from one year to the next.

National 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 picked the Mets to finish fourth in 2015 and they made it to the World Series), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.

I posted my predictions for the 2016 American League Season on Monday, and today I’m going to give my predictions for the National League (along with my reasoning), starting with the National League East:

EAST

1. Mets

2. Nationals

3. Marlins

4. Braves

5. Phillies

The Mets proved to the baseball world last season that they are a team that is finally ready to win. In the past, there had been a lot of talk surrounding the Mets that each season would finally be their year, but things inevitably fell through for them in the end. In 2015, however, they finally emerged, with Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom leading the charge and setting the tone each and every night. I expect them to have even better seasons individually this year, and with it will come more success as a whole. But although their pitching rivals that of any other squad in baseball, it’s their combination of good pitching and good offense that will seal the division title for them. Resigning Yoenis Cespedes was their biggest retention of the offseason, as he, along with veterans Curtis Granderson and David Wright, will assuredly be more than enough to push them past their rival Natinoals.

If the Nationals had signed Yoenis Cespedes as was reportedly attempted this offseason, I would have them in much better shape. Even so, I still feel a second place finish and possible Wild Card spot isn’t out of the question. Although their offense is likely going to be better this season, with a fully healthy Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman looking to slug along side of 2015 National League MVP Bryce Harper, I don’t see it as being good enough to hold off a good Mets’ pitching staff for first place. After all, the Nats seemingly had everything in place in 2015, as the signings of big time pitcher Max Scherzer made them immediate favorites. But a lot went wrong for Washington last season, making it hard to predict for sure how they will fare this time around. To me, Stephen Strasburg needs to finally have his superstar breakout season in order for the Nationals to have any shot at overthrowing the division favorite Mets.

A healthy Marlins team has proven in the past that they can compete with any team in baseball. However, I don’t feel confident that they have all the pieces it takes to place any higher than third in a division that has the Mets and Nationals fighting for the first place slot. What makes it so difficult is the fact that beyond Jose Fernandez, who looks ready to return back from missing most of 2015 due to Tommy John surgery, the Marlins don’t have any other pitchers who can absolutely dominate an opposing teams lineup. Furthermore, beyond Giancarlo Stanton, who really needs to have a fully healthy season in order to contribute monster numbers to his club, Miami isn’t all that loaded in the offensive side of things. Justin Bour had a nice breakout year for them in 2015, and Dee Gordon has emerged as one of the game’s best hitting second basemen, but I don’t see this Miami club as being capable of any sort of special year.

With sights set on 2017, when they will officially move from Turner Field to a brand new ballpark across town, the Braves are likely headed for another disappointing year. Getting rid of Shelby Miller (even though it brought back number one overall pick Dansby Swanson) was a huge mistake in my opinion, as it drastically weakens what was already a poor rotation. Beyond Julio Teheran at the top, and Matt Wisler, who is poised for a breakout year, the Braves don’t really have all that much to throw at opposing teams. Additionally, their lineup has a few key pieces to it, such as Freddie Freeman, Michael Bourn and Nick Markakis, but those guys likely won’t be able to carry the team on their own. In my mind, for a Braves team that hasn’t been the same offensively since losing Justin Upton to the Padres (he’s now with the Tigers), the best thing they can do is hope for better things when they relocate in 2017.

When you look at the talent the Phillies have coming fast in their minor league system, it would appear that this will be the final year of what has turned into a drastic rebuilding process for the Phillies. After winning division title after division title, Philadelphia has been a shell of its former power house club in recent years. Ryan Howard is entering the last year of his contract with the Phillies, but I’m not expect a tremendous amount from him, as he hasn’t been able to perform on the superstar level he once did. Beyond Howard, the only other player in the Phillies lineup who I could see having an above average year is Maikel Franco, who was great last season. Their rotation isn’t much better, as they have a few nice pieces, but nothing overly dominant. Even so, their farm system is loaded with impact players knocking on the door to Philadelphia. Therefore, as I’m viewing it, this could be the last disappointing year for quite awhile.

CENTRAL

1. Cubs

2. Cardinals

3. Pirates

4. Reds

5. Brewers

The National League Central division appears to have all the makings of a classic division rivalry between the top three finishers, but I have the Cubs really breaking through in 2016. They were able to make it into the playoffs last season, but were eliminated before they could make any major run towards breaking their World Series drought. But the offseason addition of John Lackey to go along with Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in a relatively strong rotation put them as frontrunners. Their lineup was good last season, but I think they’ll break through even further in the coming year. Adding Jason Heyward to their outfield will inevitably improve their club, and rookies from a year ago, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell should build upon their 2015 years to form what looks to be a division title club. If all goes as planned, this could be the year the Cubs make it deep into the postseason, and maybe even the World Series.

While I have the Cubs finishing in first place, the Cardinals are certainly not going to go down without a fight, and will give Chicago a true run for their money. With Yadier Molina returning from a season in which he missed most of due to injury, he should help both their offense and pitching staffs improve. Beyond him, Jhonny Peralta and Matt Holiday are looking to post solid numbers once again, with Stephen Piscotty, Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter figuring to have large contributions as well. Moreover, the Cardinals pitching staff should be tremendous, if Adam Wainwright can pitch the way he’s capable of, along with Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn. Also having a lock down closer in Trevor Rosenthal to come in for the ninth inning, if St. Louis can see their starters having good outings night after night, they could rack up a lot of wins when all is said and done this season.

The Pirates are going to finish in a close third place in my mind. While they have an All-Star closer in Mark Melancon, much as the Carinals do in Rosenthal, Pittsburgh simply doesn’t have the top notch pitching staff I feel they need to find themselves forcing the Carinals and Cubs to sweat. Beyond Gerrit Cole, who is sure to have another star season, the Pirates top options of Jeff Lock and Francisco Liriano are too inconsistent for me to feel they will have that big of an impact. Their lineup is fairly solid, with Jung Ho Kang and Josh Harrison, as well as an outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte, but the rest of their lineup isn’t all that dominant. But athough they likely won’t be able to hold off the powerful Cubs and Cardinals, the Pirates have a ton of talent in the high minors who should be helping very soon. With that in mind, they could see a big jump in wins starting as soon as 2017, if not late this year.

I originally had the Reds coming in last in the National League Central division, but upon closer inspection of their roster, I moved them up to fourth. Even so, it is looking like it will turn out to be another rough season in Cincinnati. Although their lineup isn’t exactly terrible, possessing guys such as Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, it isn’t great, either. The Reds will go on solid runs at time, as virtually every club winds up doing, but I have a hard time picturing them sustaining anything. On the pitching side of their club, the loss of Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees will no doubt hurt their bullpen, where they don’t have too much depth. Surprisingly, however, their strongest suit may turn out to be their rotation. If given a chance, I think Robert Stephenson could be a big impact pitcher for them, along with Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan and Michael Lorenzen giving a little spark to the Reds coming poor year.

Both the lineup and pitching staff of the Brewers can be summed up in four words: good, but not great. Their entire team is made up of guys who have been good (or even really good) at one point or another, but have also been very inconsistent. Ryan Braun in hands down their best and most impactful player, and with the exception of Scooter Gennett, Chris Carter and Jonathan Lucroy, Braun is really the only above average player on the squad. Wily Peralta, Matt Garza and Jimmy Nelson have each had great outings as part of the Brewers’ rotation, but they all also hold a lot of uncertainty heading into this season as to how they will actually fare. While there may be a few bright spots throughout the year in which certain players go on a hot streak that subsequently help propel Milwaukee forward, I don’t see anyway they make any major postseason push. There doesn’t appear to be much to be excited about for 2016.

WEST

1. Giants

2. Diamondbacks

3. Dodgers

4. Padres

5. Rockies

My predictions for the National League West nearly saw me placing the Diamondbacks in this slot, with the Giants finishing in second place. But I can’t ignore the fact that San Francisco’s lineup is better overall than that in Phoenix. Lead by the offense of Buster Posey, the Giants also have several more very impact bats such as that of Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Matt Duffy and Brandon Crawford. But what really gives the Giants the slightest of edges over the D-backs is their pitching staff, which is truly solid. The pickups of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija should help them to perform well, as they already had star hurler Madinson Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Chris Heston. Though you never can fully predict where a team will fall at the end of any given season, I feel fairly confident that the Giants will be able to hold off the Diamondbacks and come out on top if they can perform the way that they are capable of.

I’m fully on board the Diamondbacks’ bandwagon, but it’s not just because a lot of people around the baseball world are believing in them heading into 2016. Picking up both Zack Greinke, who had a historic season last year, as well as Shelby Miller, will go along way in helping the D-back’s rotation that already included star Patrick Corbin, among others. Their bullpen is good as well, with guys such as Brad Ziegler and newcomer Tyler Clippard set to shut things down in the late innings. Offensively, the D-backs aren’t going to score tons of runs every night, but they still possess quite a bit of pop. Guys like Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and Yasmani Tomas should be able to lead this club to a lot of victories if everything holds up on the pitching side. All things considered, it should wind up being a far more successful year in the desert than what they saw just a year ago.

While the Dodgers still have the best pitcher in baseball in Clayton Keshaw, who you can more than count on to post Cy Young caliber numbers once again, the remainder of their rotation is somewhat questionable. Losing Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks this past off season will likely turn out to be a big blow to an already subpar Dodgers pitching staff, as Greinke was absolutely amazing in 2015. Los Angeles’s lineup is fairly decent, with sluggers Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez still ready to impact ballgames, as well as Rookie of the Year favorite Corey Seager also set to make his talents more widely known. However, I’m just not fully convinced that the Dodgers will be good enough to fare any better than the middle of the pack in the West. They have too many holes in their overall team for me to think that they have any shot of reaching the postseason in the coming year.

The Padres were the story of the 2014 offseason, as their general manager, A.J. Preller, made some amazing moves that brought a ton of talent to San Diego and made a lot of people believe in the Padres for 2015. But things simply didn’t go as planned. This season, expectations aren’t nearly as high, with a fourth place finish predicted from me. They lost dominant closer, Craig Kimbrel, to the Red Sox this offseason, and that will inevitably hurt in the long run. In their actual rotation, they still have a solid three of James Shields, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner, but they won’t be enough to maintain a season long winning streak. Other than Matt Kemp and an injury-plagued Wil Myers, the Padres don’t really have a lot of thump in their lineup that will be able to offset their lack of pitching, either. For that reason, the ultimate highlight of the year in San Diego will likely be them hosting the All-Star game in July.

Finishing under .500 every season since 2011, the Rockies aren’t looking to fare much better in the coming year. Although they play 81 games in a ballpark where offense is given a definitive edge, as the ball really flies in the mile high city of Denver, the Rockies truly don’t have a lot of big power bats to tap into the thin air. Beyond Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado, who should both put up monster numbers yet again, Denver merely has some solid players in the form of guys like DJ LeMahieu, Ben Paulsen and Charlie Blackmon. Although they are each good players, I don’t see it doing a whole lot of good, especially without a dominant pitching staff. Other than recently high-ranked prospects Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, who have been hit and miss to this point in their careers, the Rockies don’t have any true power hurlers who they can count on to post big outings each night. Thus, I don’t see Denver going much of anywhere in 2016.

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.  

————————————————————————

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 168 other followers