Season Previews: Cleveland Indians

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Cleveland Indians

Indians

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 81-81 (2nd in the AL Central, 16th in MLB)

Manager: Terry Francona (177-147 in two seasons with Cleveland, 1,206-1,062 in 14 seasons overall)

Top Three Players: RHP Corey Kluber (4.2), C Yan Gomes (3.8), OF Michael Brantley (3.1)

Bounce-back Player: 2B Jason Kipnis

After having a breakout campaign in 2013, Kipnis crashed back to earth in 2014. Much of that can be attributed to an attrition in BABIP, which fell from .345 in 2013 to .288 in 2014, as well as his production against left-handed pitching, which fell from .308/.370/.480 in 2013 to .208/.256/.244 in 2014; though, he dealt with tendon damage to a finger in his left hand (which he had surgery on over the offseason), which can also take some blame. Kipnis, however, has a career .246/.313/.343 triple-slash in 688 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, so it is fair to wonder if his 2013 production was an outlier. Still, a healthy Kipnis was one of the top second basemen in MLB, and at just 28 in April, the Indians should have several more productive, 2013-like seasons left out of one of their stars.

Hold on Lindor fans! Ramirez is GOOD!  Courtesy: letsgotribe.com

Hold on Lindor fans! Ramirez is GOOD!
Courtesy: letsgotribe.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: SS Jose Ramirez

While Indians fans will beg and moan for super-prospect SS Francisco Lindor to get called up to Cleveland quickly, they may be surprised, with patience, at the type of production that the Tribe can get from this 5’9″ speedster. He was an upgrade over Asdrubal Cabrera at short over the second half of the season, and, perhaps, the second half explosion of the club’s pitching staff could be tied to his elevation to full-timer at the position. Still, the Indians and their fans shouldn’t be so quick to write Ramirez off as a space-holder for Lindor, as the 22-year-old (yes, he’s quite young) has a little pop and plenty of speed, providing defensive value and enough offensive production to be capable of an everyday role, for this year and down the road. His .262/.300/.346 line in 2014 may not look all that special, but he has shown a knack for making quality contact and a patient approach that wasn’t evident in his 266 plate appearances last season. Ramirez is a sneaky-good pick in fantasy leagues, as his speed and skills will play up in a very talented Indians lineup.

Offseason Overview: The Tribe added RHP Gavin Floyd on a one-year, $4 million deal. He promptly injured his elbow, needing season-ending surgery to repair a stress fracture in his elbow. The Indians also took a chance on RHP Shaun Marcum, who signed a minor league contract with a spring training invite, which seemed to be the route the Indians took to add depth to the roster, as they continued with minor league deals with LHP Scott Downs, OF Jerry Sands, C Adam Moore, RHP Anthony Swarzak, and LHP Bruce Chen. The biggest move of the offseason was the acquisition of 1B/OF Brandon Moss, who was acquired from the Oakland Athletics for minor league second baseman Joe Wendle. Moss brings a powerful, left-handed bat to a lineup that was quite productive in 2014, ranking 11th in MLB in runs scored (669). With 1B/DH/veteran leadership provider Jason Giambi, who missed most of the season due to being old, retiring, the core of the Indians’ 85-win team is still around, while the 25th spot on the roster seems much more capable of producing “actual value” to the club.

The Verdict: PECOTA was way, way off on the Indians projection, in my opinion. This is an 88-90-win team, at the minimum, and should be considered the favorite to take the American League Central, even with the Tigers still playing baseball and the White Sox vastly improved. You can doubt whether RHP Corey Kluber can possibly repeat his Cy Young 2014 season, but you’d also have to expect regression from Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, T.J. House, and Danny Santana, who combined to go 17-13 with a 3.09 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a 282:76 K:BB over 285.1 second half innings. The bullpen is very good, as LHP Nick Hagadone seems to have finally found himself, while RHP Cody Allen looked as dominant as Craig Kimbrel last season as the closer, but, as always with bullpens, you never know what to expect from year-to-year. With Zach McAllister, Marcum, and Josh Tomlin possibly landing outside of the rotation, a move to the bullpen adds further depth for the Tribe. The offense is solid and the Indians will likely get continued production from OF Michael Brantley, though it is unlikely to be at the MVP-levels that he showed last season, while 1B Carlos Santana finally has a position and his bat will continue to take off. They have an excellent catcher in Yan Gomes, whose arm and bat have insane power in them. If 3B Lonnie Chisenhall is as good as he was last season, and the Indians get healthy seasons out of Moss, OF Michael Bourn, and Kipnis, Cleveland is as good as any team in baseball.

Season Previews: Miami Marlins

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Miami Marlins

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 81-81 (3rd in NL East, 17th in MLB)

Manager: Mike Redmond (139-185 in two seasons with Miami)

Top Three Players: OF Giancarlo Stanton (5.9), OF Christian Yelich (3.2), OF Marcell Ozuna (3.2)

Bounce-back Player: OF Giancarlo Stanton

It isn’t every day that a player has his face hit by a 90 mile-per-hour to the face, breaking bones and teeth, while in the middle of an MVP-caliber season. That, unfortunately, is what happened to Stanton last season, yet, he managed to finish the season with career-highs in home runs, RBI, runs, and walks, while earning his second All-Star appearance and first Silver Slugger in his age-24 season. While some may be weary of the massive slugger due to the psychological impact that his injury may have on his future abilities, he is in this spot because what Stanton was doing last season was the tip of the iceberg. While Stanton has had issues staying healthy over his career, the injury last season was of the “freak” variety, and, as the Marlins begin to piece together a formidable roster, Stanton’s opportunities to continue his climb to superstardom will increase, as will his ability to maintain and exceed his incredible 2014 numbers.

Now protected with a faceguard, can Stanton be even better? Courtesy: ESPN.com

Now protected with a faceguard, can Stanton be even better?
Courtesy: ESPN.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: 1B Justin Bour

An injury to an outfielder or to Mike Morse could pave the way for Bour to finally get an extended look at first base. At 26, he is hardly a prospect, but he has been quite productive throughout his minor league career after being drafted in the 25th round in 2009. Bour got his first taste of the majors in 2014, posting a .284/.361/.365 line over 83 plate appearances, while posting a .279/.351/.460 line over 2,742 career minor league plate appearances. The Marlins do have quite a bit of depth (Ichiro Suzuki, Reed Johnson, and Jeff Baker will be on their bench), but it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the 6’4″, 250 pounder was called upon at some point in 2015.

Offseason Overview: Miami was active over the winter, acquiring RHP Mat Latos from Cincinnati and 2B Dee Gordon from the Dodgers. The speed that Gordon provides, if he continues to get on base, creates quite a bit of diversity within the Marlins’ lineup. In 2014, Miami only received a .236/.303/.344 from their second basemen, so Gordon could provide quite a nice upgrade there. In Latos, the Marlins gained one-year of a pitcher capable of elite production, and a pitcher who is capable of occupying the No.1 spot in the rotation until Jose Fernandez returns from his rehab for Tommy John surgery. While the Marlins gave up some solid, mid-rotation arms (Andrew Heaney and Anthony DeSclafani) to acquire these players, they continue to develop and draft solid talent to build from within. It didn’t stop there, though, as Miami acquired RHP Aaron Crow from the Royals, RHP Dan Haren (in the same deal with Gordon), RHP David Phelps and 3B Martin Prado (both acquired from the Yankees in a deal that sent Nathan Eovaldi and Garret Jones to New York), while signing 1B Mike Morse via free agency to provide additional power, and OF Ichiro Suzuki, OF Tyler Colvin, and INF Scott Sizemore to strengthen the bench. The club promised Stanton that they would build around him when he signed his massive $325 million extension, and it appears that they are holding firm to that promise.

The Verdict: When you have a superstar like Stanton, you build around him. Miami just locked-up OF Christian Yelich to a seven-year extension, and they have additional talent like OF Marcell Ozuna, RHP Henderson Alvarez, RHP and closer Steve Cishek, and hard-throwing RHP Jarred Cosart on-hand. The addition of veterans like Prado and Haren can be a huge influence on a young roster, but these young, core players are talented and experienced enough to know what they are doing. The Marlins will be a contender in the National League East in 2015, and they may be the only team who is capable of giving the Nationals any true competition in the division. Look for this team to be several games better than the .500 PECOTA projection, and look for a run to the Wild Card once Jose Fernandez joins the rotation in mid-to-late June.

2015 Season Previews: Pittsburgh Pirates

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Pittsburgh Pirates

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 80-82 (3rd in NL Central, 18th in MLB

Manager: Clint Hurdle (333-315 in four years with Pittsburgh, 867-940 in 12 years overall)

Top Three Players: OF Andrew McCutchen (6.1), OF Starling Marte (3.3), 2B Neil Walker (3.0)

Bounce-back Player: OF Gregory Polanco

After hitting .328/.390/.504 with 29 extra-base hits and 16 stolen bases in 69 games at Triple-A last season, Polanco landed in Pittsburgh to begin his career. The 6’4″, 220 pound outfielder ran like a gazelle, covering the outfield and the base paths with long-legged ease, but was somewhat disappointing in his first shot at the big leagues, posting a .235/.307/.343 triple-slash with 16 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases over 314 plate appearances. For that reason, Polanco is here, as he is likely to see huge gains, especially considering the fact that he wasn’t over-matched during his time in the majors in 2014, posting an 18.9 percent strikeout rate with a 9.6 percent walk rate. Polanco will be in his age-23 season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see more than 50 extra-base hits and 25 stolen bases out of the lanky, future superstar.

NL Cy Young contender, Cole Courtesy: CBS Sports

NL Cy Young contender, Cole
Courtesy: CBS Sports

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Gerrit Cole

Cole struggles with shoulder fatigue in 2014, which is quite worrisome for a pitcher, especially one who was just 23 last season. With an offseason of rest, Cole steps into a season that will catapult him into the elite of the National League, as he’ll become the top starter on the Pirates and one of the top ten pitchers in baseball – barring injury, of course. Cole improved his K:9 to 9.0 from 7.7 in his rookie campaign, and further gains are likely as he continues to grasp and build command of his impressive collection of power pitches. The Pirates are putting Francisco Liriano on the bump for Opening Day, but Cole is the ace of the Pirates rotation, and he’ll make huge strides in 2015 and put himself in the Cy Young conversation.

Offseason Overview: The Pirates brought Liriano back, as well as right-hander A.J. Burnett, strengthening their rotation with arms that have succeeded at PNC Park already. They’ll hope that RHP Charlie Morton can stay healthy and productive and that Vance Worley‘s success in 17 starts (8-4, 2.85 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) can be duplicated, forming a rotation that is capable of carrying the club to the top of the division. The focus of the offseason appeared to be acquiring depth, which Neil Huntington and company did quite well, bringing in super-utility players Sean Rodriguez and Steve Lombardozzi, first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart, and international shortstop signing Jung Ho Kang, who hit a robust .356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs and 117 RBI in 117 games in Korea last season. The loss of Russell Martin will be a huge factor with the pitching staff, but Francisco Cervelli was brought in to cushion the blow. We’ll see if that is enough to keep things balanced for the Pirates, who have made the playoffs the last two seasons after missing out on October fun from 1993 to 2012.

The Verdict: Pittsburgh is loaded with talent. It may seem unreasonable to expect the same type of season out of Josh Harrison that they had in 2014 (.837 OPS, 58 extra-base hits, 18 stolen bases), but they should get more out of 1B Pedro Alvarez (.717 OPS, 18 home runs), while the outfield begins (or continues) to carry the offense, with likely MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen being flanked by Starling Marte and Polanco in the corners – and we haven’t even mentioned 2B Neil Walker, who is one of the most underrated players in baseball. With continued improvement from the youngsters, particularly Cole and Polanco, the Pirates are capable of overcoming the loss of their leader, Martin, and riding the on-hand talent to a 90-win season and an NL Central title.

2015 Predictions and Useless Guesses

For my 500th post, I decided I’d go away from the previews for a moment and look forward to the season in a different way, with my annual predictions and useless guesses. While there are other, more important analysts who gather data and use systems to generate these types of lists, I just use the ol’ noggin. You can find my 2012, 2013, and 2014 versions to see how I did in the past, but this is a new season and a new idea on how the league will look at the end of the 2015 season.

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Baltimore Orioles

3. Tampa Bay Rays

4. Toronto Blue Jays

5. New York Yankees

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians

2. Detroit Tigers

3. Chicago White Sox

4. Kansas City Royals

5. Minnesota Twins

AL West

1. Oakland Athletics

2. Los Angeles Angels

3. Seattle Mariners

4. Texas Rangers

5. Houston Astros

AL Wild Cards

Los Angeles Angels

Baltimore Orioles

NL East

1. Washington Nationals

2. Miami Marlins

3. New York Mets

4. Atlanta Braves

5. Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central

1. Pittsburgh Pirates

2. St. Louis Cardinals

3. Milwaukee Brewers

4. Chicago Cubs

5. Cincinnati Reds

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Diego Padres

3. San Francisco Giants

4. Arizona Diamondbacks

5. Colorado Rockies

NL Wild Cards

San Diego Padres

St. Louis Cardinals

World Series Prediction

Washington Nationals over Boston Red Sox in six games

AL Manager of the Year?

AL Manager of the Year?

AL Manager of the Year

Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

The Detroit Tigers lost RHP Max Scherzer to free agency and RHP Rick Porcello in a trade. Sure, they still have LHP David Price and they added OF Yoenis Cespedes to their offense, but this will be a new AL Central, one that will be very competitive, and will have a division winner who isn’t Detroit for the first time since 2010. The Indians have a very intriguing team, full of youth and talent, with much of that talent still not totally tapped. The rotation has reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, with RHPs Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and Carlos Carrasco behind him, while healthy seasons out of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher will add to the production of Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis (who should rebound from a lousy 2015), and Michael Brantley. All Francona needs to do is utilize the talent, which is something that he is an expert at doing. Cleveland will win more than 90 games and have their first division title since 2007.

NL Manager of the Year? Courtesy: USA Today

NL Manager of the Year?
Courtesy: USA Today

NL Manager of the Year

Mike Redmond, Miami Marlins

The NL East is going to be down…way down. The Nationals will likely win the division by ten or more games, but the Marlins will be competitive, and Redmond will look very intelligent by being in the position as the field general. He has Giancarlo Stanton and his massive power to lead an offense that has quite a bit of talent. Christian Yelich will solidify himself as one of the top outfielders in the NL this season, and Marcell Ozuna will round out the outfield with his impressive power in center; however, it doesn’t stop there. With Mike Morse providing more power at first, Martin Prado being acquired to handle the hot corner, Adeiny Hechavarria‘s slick glove at short, and Dee Gordon‘s blazing speed at second, the Marlins will shock a lot of people. The possible mid-season addition of Jose Fernandez to the rotation could push them over the top, as Henderson Alvarez, Mat Latos, Dan Haren, and Jarred Cosart hold down the fort until then. The Marlins are a solid team, and after the Mets lost Zack Wheeler, the Braves went into rebuild-mode, and the Phillies continue to be awful, they’ll be the only team capable of hanging around Washington in the NL East in 2015.

Trout has reason to smile with another MVP season

Trout has reason to smile with another MVP season

AL MVP

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

This young man doesn’t turn 24 until August and he already has been an All-Star three times, been an All-Star MVP, and an AL MVP – he has 2.67 career MVP shares thanks to finishing 2nd in each of his first two full seasons. People may become nitpicking about things with Trout, such as his 184 strikeouts in 2014, just to try to disprove the fact that he is the best player in baseball. That won’t change in 2015. Even the computers think that Trout is going to continue his tear:

Depth Charts: .299/.396/.557, 103 R, 31 HR, 20 SB, 96 RBI

ZiPS: .301/.401/.577, 113 R, 35 HR, 23 SB, 114 RBI

Steamer: .297/.391/.537, 105 R, 30 HR, 21 SB, 90 RBI

If you had the No.1 overall pick in your fantasy draft, the only other acceptable player to take would have been…

McCutchen may get more respect after another MVP in 2015 Courtesy: ESPN.com

McCutchen may get more respect after another MVP in 2015
Courtesy: ESPN.com

NL MVP

Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

McCutchen continues to be an incredible producer, hitting the elite .300/.400/.500 level the last three seasons, while having a unique blend of power and speed. He is the leader of the Pirates outfield, which could become one of the greatest outfields in the history of baseball with Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco reaching their peak years of production in coming seasons, but McCutchen will continue to be the anchor of that group, and of the Pittsburgh franchise. The 2015 season won’t be any different for this superstar, who will win his 2nd MVP award in his age-28 season, leading the Pirates to the top of the NL Central.

Could he REALLY be getting better with age?

Could he REALLY be getting better with age?

AL Cy Young

Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle Mariners

“King Felix” had his best season to date in 2014, but it wasn’t enough to earn his second Cy Young award, as Corey Kluber’s majestic season was able to catch the eyes of the voters, and with good reason. Still, it’s unbelievable to see Hernandez reaching new levels of excellence considering he has been such a dominant starter for nine full seasons. Even in his age-29 season, it’s likely to see continued gains in the production, as Hernandez demonstrates a mastery on the mound that rivals that of…

So...so good.

So…so good.

NL Cy Young

Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

The last several seasons, I didn’t want to believe. I questioned Kershaw in the past due to his higher walk rates, so I kept thinking that the NL West would belong to Giants’ left-hander Madison Bumgarner. While Bumgarner had an incredible run last season, he can’t carry Kershaw’s jockstrap, and it’s likely that we’re watching the closest thing to Sandy Koufax that our generation will ever see. It is just coincidental that Kershaw has the Dodgers uniform and left-handed delivery in common, and, hopefully, those are the only similarities that we will see between the two. Kershaw is gifted, and he is a gift to baseball fans. He will continue his dominance in 2015, likely winning 20 games again due to his incredible individual talent, as well as the talent behind him on the field.

Heaney will strengthen the Angels' rotation in 2015 Courtesy: Getty Images

Heaney will strengthen the Angels’ rotation in 2015
Courtesy: Getty Images

AL Rookie of the Year

Andrew Heaney, LHP, Los Angeles Angels

Getting Andrew Heaney for Howie Kendrick may go down as a coup for the Angels. Not only did they free the payroll of $9.5 million, they got a major league ready arm with a half-a-dozen years of team-control to put into their rotation. While Heaney doesn’t have No.1 starter stuff, he is quite capable of having a long, successful career. He’ll begin that run of success in 2015 on Day One, and while Josh Rutledge and Johnny Giovatella aren’t as good at baseball as Kendrick, it was a deal that the Angels had to make, as they don’t have the talent in the minor league system to improve their rotation, and they needed that youth with C.J.Wilson aging quickly and Jered Weaver not getting any younger.

Soler is just as good and better than Bryant in 2015, and will win NL ROY

Soler is just as good and better than Bryant in 2015, and will win NL ROY

NL Rookie of the Year

Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs

Many will be swinging on the coattails of Kris Bryant, I’m all aboard the Soler bandwagon in 2015. He has incredible power and he managed to bulk up his already impressive physique over the winter. In his age-22 season, he reached the majors and combined to hit 20 home runs and drive in 77 runs in 86 games and 333 plate appearances over four levels. If Soler stays healthy, he will have better numbers than Bryant, and he won’t be spending the first month in the minors. The end results will be impressive, even for a 23-year-old who will need to adjust to the league having tape on him.

10 BOLD Predictions

  1. Trade bait?  Courtesy: twinsdaily.com

    Trade bait?
    Courtesy: twinsdaily.com

    Johnny Cueto will be on the Boston Red Sox by the trade deadline, as the prospects would be more valuable to the Reds than a draft pick.

  2. Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar will combine for over 340 strikeouts, 27 wins, and 59 starts covering 390 innings for the Cleveland Indians, but Corey Kluber is still their best pitcher.
  3. Masahiro Tanaka will not make 15 starts before he finishes the tear of his UCL and has Tommy John surgery.
  4. Gerrit Cole will finish in the top three in the NL Cy Young – behind Kershaw and Bumgarner.
  5. Xander Bogaerts will hit 20 home runs and drive in at least 75 runs at the bottom of the Red Sox order.
  6. Drew Hutchison is the top pitcher on the Blue Jays, and a top 30 starting pitcher, while Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez flop in their roles at the back of the rotation.
  7. Addison Russell finishes the season as the Chicago Cubs starting shortstop when Starlin Castro is traded for young pitching at the trade deadline.
  8. Jose Ramirez is so valuable to the Cleveland Indians that they don’t call-up Francisco Lindor until September.
  9. Joc Pederson hits 25 home runs and steals 30 bases while striking out over 160 times and posting a batting average under .250 – George Springer-lite.
  10. Justin Verlander rebounds and posts an ERA under 3.85, a WHIP under 1.30, and more than 190 strikeouts in 215 or more innings.

10 BOLD SLEEPERS

  1. Micah Johnson, 2B, Chicago White Sox: crazy speed and he looks like he’s the Opening Day starter
  2. This is the year Gausman becomes an ace...right?

    This is the year Gausman becomes an ace…right?

    Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles: the chains should be off and he is on his way to stardom

  3. Jake Lamb, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks: if Yasmany Tomas has hands of stone and can’t handle third, Lamb will, and he has managed to hit .321/.406/.553 in 1,079 minor league at-bats.
  4. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies: Arenado makes contact, plays in a hitter’s paradise, and will see many of his doubles turn into home runs as he matures. He’s well on his way to becoming elite.
  5. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Boston Red Sox: Clay Buchholz is bound to be hurt, Joe Kelly is questionable (at best), and Justin Masterson may never rebound to his 2013 form – enter this guy.
  6. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, New York Yankees: Huge fastball, tremendous gains in his walk-rate, and he will begin to miss more bats. He’ll end up being the Yankees’ top starter due to Tanaka’s injury.
  7. Collin McHugh, RHP, Houston Astros: Even after finishing 4th in voting for the AL Rookie of the Year in 2014, McHugh may sneak under the radar. His 9.1 K:9 and 6.8 H:9 are for real. He could, sneakily, become the next Corey Kluber.
  8. Raisel Iglesias, RHP, Cincinnati Reds: He struggled with command in Cuba, but he has electric stuff, a strong repertoire, and a spot in the Cincinnati rotation. As bad as they look on paper, he has plenty of opportunities for run support with a healthy Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Todd Frazier.
  9. Hahn is on the rise in Oakland Courtesy: Mercurynews.com

    Hahn is on the rise in Oakland
    Courtesy: Mercurynews.com

    Jesse Hahn, RHP, Oakland Athletics: Hahn posted solid numbers in 12 starts for the Padres in his age-24, rookie season in 2014, but he’s going to a similar offensive-drowning park in Oakland, with a very talented roster behind him. He could be a top 30 starting pitcher by the end of the season with his strikeout potential.

  10. Alex Gonzalez, RHP, Texas Rangers: Better known as “Chi Chi”, Gonzalez, a former 1st round pick out of Oral Roberts in 2013, has been a quick-moving prospect for the Rangers, reaching Double-A Frisco last season, with good reason. He has a mid-rotation ceiling, but with the Rangers desperate for healthy pitching with their sudden curse on their roster and talent, Gonzalez could get a long look, showing enough talent to be roster-worthy in fantasy leagues.

2015 Season Previews: New York Yankees

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

New York Yankees

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 80-82 (4th in AL East, 19th in MLB)

Manager: Joe Girardi (648-486 in seven seasons with New York, 726-570 in eight seasons overall)

Top Three Players: 3B Chase Headley (3.8), OF Jacoby Ellsbury (3.7), RHP Masahiro Tanaka (3.5)

Bounce-back Player: 3B/DH Alex Rodriguez

ARod is a miserable human being. He is a cheat, a liar, a disgrace to the game, and a $64 million financial burden over the next three seasons for a team that doesn’t appear to want anything to do with him. That appears to be fine for Rodriguez, who took to ESPN for a profile that painted him as a man who struggles with reality; however, the reality for baseball fans is that he is back on the field, healthy and rejuvenated, and ready to play and make an impact. His success depends on how much time the Yankees are willing to give him on the field. Since the club has Chase Headley, Garret Jones, and Mark Teixeira ahead of him on the depth charts at first, third, and DH, it remains to be seen how he will be used. Rodriguez, though, still has something left in the tank, working out with Barry Bonds (laugh and talk about PEDs all you want) to change his swing and strengthen his production as he ages. Rodriguez could be washed up or he could be a surprising producer. It may be unreasonable to ever expect good things from Rodriguez, on the field and off, but I see a man who, with 500 plate appearances, is capable of 20 to 25 home runs, making him quite useful -still- in an offense-starved league.

Courtesy: NY Daily News

Nathan Eovaldi’s fastball will finally miss some bats in 2015 Courtesy: NY Daily News

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi’s impressive fastball (4th fastest in MLB in 2014) has put him on the radar for a number of years, but he hasn’t taken a step toward dominance that many with similar electricity have. For example, even with the strong, dominant fastball, Eovaldi allowed 10.1 hits per nine, while striking out just 6.4 per nine. The positive in the low strikeout rate, however, is that Eovaldi walked just 1.9 per nine (3.3 K:BB), which may allow him to be a force if he was to miss a few more bats with his very straight fastball. While people may look to the fact that he is now pitching in the AL East and must deal with the incredible offenses there, you can look at a 25-year-old right-hander who is about to hit his peak. If Eovaldi is able to take a step forward, he’s going to take off and become quite dominant. If you can get him now, before that happens, you can thank me later.

Offseason Overview: The Yankees found their replacement for Derek Jeter when they acquired Didi Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-way deal that included Shane Greene going to Detroit. Gregorius is now in his third organization, which shows that people still think he is valuable, but he had negative defensive value in 2014 and his .653 OPS doesn’t help his outlook if his defense is falling off. At just 25, he still has enough potential to outproduce Jeter. Eovaldi, as mentioned above, should be a nice addition to the staff, and with Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda at the top of the rotation, they need Eovaldi to produce and be healthy, something they can’t quite count on out of the other two. Dellin Betances should step right into the closer’s role and be an Aroldis Chapman-Craig Kimbrel type of dominator, which is necessary after David Robertson left for Chicago. Re-signing Headley at third base was necessary due to the unknown of Alex Rodriguez, and Stephen Drew was brought back after a horrific 46 game audition last season, but both are more capable with their gloves than they are with their bats. The Yankees could have one of the best defensive clubs in baseball in 2015 for that reason.

The Verdict: The Yankees aren’t going to be worse in 2014. A full season of Headley should outproduce what Yangervis Solarte was able to do in 2014, and there is more to Brian McCann (.692 OPS), Teixeira (.711 OPS), and Jacoby Ellsbury (.747 OPS) than what they showed last season. The biggest question mark is their pitching. Michael Pineda threw 76.1 innings in 2014, his first in the majors since 2011, after having dealt with major shoulder issues, Masahiro Tanaka is pitching through a partially torn UCL, and CC Sabathia missed all but eight starts due to a right knee injury. Are they going to get enough out of these three to remain competitive? They have Scott Baker, Chris Capuano, and Ivan Nova as pitching depth, but if those three make significant contributions, the Yankees are going to be in really bad shape. It is fair to highly doubt that Tanaka makes it through the 2015 season, and, for that reason, the club will, at some point, be without a number one starter. It also seems fair to think that a winning season is highly unlikely without things breaking completely right. Those things include:

1) 180 or more innings from Tanaka, Pineda, and Sabathia

2) More productive seasons from Headley, Drew, Ellsbury, Teixeira, and McCann

3) A miracle

The Yankees PECOTA seems right in 2015, but without the above things happening, it is doubtful that they reach 80 wins.

2015 Season Previews: Milwaukee Brewers

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Milwaukee Brewers

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 80-82 (4th in NL Central, 20th in MLB)

Manager: Ron Roenicke (335-313 in four seasons with Milwaukee)

Top Three Players: OF Carlos Gomez (4.4), C Jonathan Lucroy (3.3), OF Ryan Braun 2.5

Bounce-back Player: SS Jean Segura

In the first half of the 2013 season Segura hit .325/.363/.487 with 11 doubles, eight triples, 11 home runs, and 27 stolen bases in 397 plate appearances. Since then, Segura has hit .244/.283/.322 with 23 doubles, eight triples, six home runs, and 37 stolen bases in 783 plate appearances. Who is Jean Segura? Well, in 2014, Segura dealt with personal tragedy, which could have been a leading culprit in his ineptitude. He was always a good contact hitter, but, suddenly, he was posting a .275 BABIP and his entire game fell off – even his defense wasn’t as good in 2014. While it’s fair to wonder what was going on in the second half of 2013, the chances are high that this 25-year-old gets things rolling again, becoming a very valuable shortstop for the Brewers and a favorite of fantasy nerds.

Courtesy: naciondeportiva.com

Courtesy: naciondeportiva.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Mike Fiers

I loathed Fiers because he almost cost me a title last season. When his fastball smacked Giancarlo Stanton and ended the big slugger’s season, that was the only time that I remember seeing Fiers name in the national sports headlines in 2014. It won’t be the same in 2015. Fiers, 29, posted a 2.13 ERA and 0.88 WHIP over 71.2 innings and 14 games (ten starts), while posting an impressive 9.5 K:9 and 4.47 K:BB. In 2013, Fiers had his forearm broken by a batted ball. Outside of that miserable season, which lasted all of 22.1 major league innings, Fiers is 15-15 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over his 199.2 innings in 2012 and 2014, striking out 9.5 batters per nine. He may be a late bloomer, he may not have an electric fastball (89.6 mph), but Mike Fiers can pitch. He has a rotation spot locked up, and he is an excellent, cheap target.

Offseason Overview: The Brewers let Mark Reynolds leave via free agency and brought in Adam Lind to man first base. Lind had his most productive season since his impressive 2009, posting an .860 OPS and 141 wRC+ over just 318 plate appearances, and, if healthy (which has been his problem due to back issues), he could be the solid, left-handed bat the Brewers have needed since Prince Fielder left. Milwaukee lost Zach Duke to the White Sox, but they added an impressive lefty of their own in his place, Neal Cotts. They traded their “ace”, Yovani Gallardo, to Texas for some solid young pieces, sliding Fiers and Jimmy Nelson into the rotation to replace the overrated Mexican right-hander, whose inability to miss bats increased while his salary inflated. While there wasn’t a true splash by the Brewers this winter, they have the core of this group together for another couple of seasons, replacing pieces as they go to remain competitive.

The Verdict: Milwaukee remains one of those teams that battle and are a nuisance to their counterparts, though they don’t seem to create headlines. They collect talent and find ways to keep it around. Lucroy is one of the top offensive catchers in baseball, Gomez has the best power/speed combo this side of Mike Trout, and Ryan Braun will be improved with the ability to use his thumb in 2015, something he wasn’t able to do for several months in 2014. There are several question marks when it comes to health, but the Brewers may be able to hold onto the lead in the NL Central if they have things go right. A return to form by Braun and Segura, some improvement by Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett, and typical production from Aramis Ramirez, Gomez, and Lucroy, and the offense is scary. A little luck with Jimmy Nelson on the back-end of the rotation and consistency from Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, and Fiers, and they are contenders. They’ll be much better than 4th in the NL Central in 2015.

2015 Season Previews: Cincinnati Reds

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Cincinnati Reds

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 79-83 (5th in NL Central, 21st in MLB)

Manager: Bryan Price (76-86 in one season with Cincinnati)

Top Three Players: 1B Joey Votto (4.1), C Devin Mesoraco (2.9), RHP Johnny Cueto (2.7)

Bounce-back Player: 1B Joey Votto

Votto hasn’t been the same player since his 2010 NL MVP, or so it seems. As a native of Cincinnati, all that I hear on talk radio is how Votto isn’t worth the money and he doesn’t swing enough. It is an argument that continues to play out, as Votto continues to walk and get on base, but he also continues to see his home run totals dip. For all of those who thought that last season was so awful, due to his .255 average, they forget that he got on-base at a .390 clip. As long as Votto is patient, fans and fantasy players should be, too. He is the most intelligent hitter to play in MLB since Tony Gwynn, and it is a matter of time before he stays on the field and finds his MVP-caliber stroke again. Those who take a chance on him will, likely, be rewarded. He isn’t going to miss 100 games again. He’s in shape, the Reds were cautious last season because they weren’t competitive, and he instantly reclaims the title as the Reds best player when he suits up on Opening Day.

Can Iglesias take on a major role in his rookie season?  Courtesy: Cincinnati.com

Can Iglesias take on a major role in his rookie season?
Courtesy: Cincinnati.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Raisel Iglesias

Iglesias is a 24-year-old right-hander from Cuba whom the Reds signed to a seven-year, $27 million deal last June. Despite being just 5’11”, the Reds seem likely to try the youngster as a starting pitcher, though his long-term role may be in the bullpen. Iglesias was a reliever in Cuba and had some pretty miserable statistics based on his control, but he has very good stuff, a four-pitch mix with a sweeping breaking ball that could be a strikeout pitch if he is able to gain some command. The Reds have a couple of things going for them in how they develop Iglesias – they’ve had success with short starters (see Johnny Cueto) and they’ve groomed relief pitchers into successful starters in recent years (see Tony Cingrani and Michael Lorenzen). Iglesias is more likely to open the season in the bullpen than the rotation, but he is certainly someone to watch based on his stuff and the Reds need for a strong set-up man after watching so many crash and burn in the role in 2014.

Offseason Overview: Cincinnati had a busy, yet, somewhat confusing offseason. They needed to trim some payroll after a miserable season that saw attendance drop, so they needed to move some talent to accommodate that need. They dealt RHP Mat Latos and RHP Alfredo Simon, acquiring affordable, young pitching in RHP Anthony DeSclafani and RHP Brandon Crawford, while adding solid depth in the infield by acquiring INF Eugenio Suarez. However, despite the sudden youth movement, the Reds then traded prospect RHP Ben Lively for OF Marlon Byrd. They finished off the winter by signing RHP Burke Badenhop, who had a fantastic season in Boston in 2014, to shore up the spotty bullpen. So…they got a little younger and cheaper, then got a little older by getting Byrd, who is under contract through 2016 and will turn 38 in August. They kept their core together and must assume that they will get more out of Bruce, 2B Brandon Phillips, and Votto in 2015, but they didn’t truly address their rotation, which became quite slim after dealing away 40 percent of the 2014 rotation, only signing LHP Paul Maholm to address the losses.

The Verdict: Walt Jocketty continues to make deals as the GM in Cincinnati, but he isn’t making the additions necessary to get the team over the hump. After the 2013 season, Dusty Baker was fired, Shin-Soo Choo left via free agency, and the Reds gave Billy Hamilton the center field job – that about sums up their offseason last year. Sure, Jocketty moved payroll and acquired depth, but DeSclafani isn’t going to replace the ability of Latos, and both he and Crawford are better suited for relief roles. Ownership and management is hoping for more of the same out of Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco, with improved offensive output from Bruce, Votto, Phillips, and Hamilton. If everything clicks offensively, they may be able to score enough to beat the opposition, but they can only count on Cueto, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey on three of every five days. Someone will need to come out of nowhere to give the club 60 good starts in the No.4 and No.5 spots in the rotation, and that talent isn’t on hand. It will be a long season in Cincinnati, and their projection by PECOTA, specifically last place in the NL Central, seems perfect.

2015 Season Previews: Chicago White Sox

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Chicago White Sox

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 78-84 (3rd in AL Central, 22nd in MLB

Manager: Robin Ventura (221-265 in three seasons with Chicago)

Top Three Players: LHP Chris Sale (4.8), 1B Jose Abreu (4.5), RHP Jeff Samardzija (3.1)

Bounce-back Player: LHP John Danks

It isn’t easy to say that Danks is going to bounce-back, as he hasn’t been a very productive pitcher since winning 15 games in 2010; however, there are signs for people to be positive about Danks. For one thing, Danks was able to pitch 193.1 innings in 2014, less than two years removed from rotator cuff and bicep tendon surgery (which cost him all but nine starts in 2012). The results (4.74 ERA and 1.44 WHIP) weren’t there, but the innings are impressive. Additionally, Danks was able to keep the ball down a bit better, leading to a 1.16 HR:9 IP (1.82 in 2013) and 42.3 percent ground ball rate, neither of which are back to his glory days, but they are trending in the right direction. Danks won’t have the fastball that he once had ever again and he will become more of a changeup artist, but, at the age of 30, he still has time to continue to re-invent himself. Look for another healthy season, with additional improvements across the board – including the wins, as 11 from last season could move to 14 this year with an improved offense.

Carlos Rodon - is he the next Sale?  Courtesy: baseballamerica.com

Carlos Rodon – is he the next Sale?
Courtesy: baseballamerica.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: LHP Carlos Rodon

At one time, the former ace of the N.C. State Wolfpack was the left-handed version of the over-hype drool machine that brought us the “can’t-miss-ace” label that was stuck on Stephen Strasburg and Mark Prior. Today, he still has a lot of helium left in his prospect balloon, but with just a tick off of his fastball, due to collegiate overuse, Rodon’s star doesn’t glow as bright as it once did. Don’t be fooled, though, because this left-hander still possesses enough stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation beast, and, thanks to a Chris Sale foot injury, he will have additional time to shine during spring training in his efforts to make the 25-man roster. Luckily, he only has to keep Hector Noesi from the No.5 spot in order to do that. There will be learning curves, of course, as evidenced by his sexy 13.5 K:9 in 12 innings at AAA that were offset by his 6 BB:9, but Rodon will be an asset for the White Sox, and his time with Chicago should start immediately.

Offseason Overview: The Chicago White Sox were very busy, adding David Robertson as their closer, Jeff Samardzija to complement Sale at the top of the rotation, and Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche to strengthen the offense. It was a quick turnaround, adding several key pieces to immediately hop into contention within the AL Central. The front office attacked the weak spots on the roster, didn’t overdo it with a monster, nine-figure contract, and even acquired Samardzija for pennies on the dollar (in prospects) when compared to what Oakland had given up for him months prior. Chicago did an excellent job to quickly improve their roster this winter.

The Verdict: Those intelligent moves from the offseason really improved the White Sox, and they are going to be closer to the Tigers, Indians, and Royals in 2015, than they will be to the Twins. With that being said, Chicago needs production from some pieces who haven’t always been consistent. Danks and Rodon are wild cards in the rotation, and if Noesi is their best option if a long-term injury were to happen, they would be in great trouble. Adam Eaton has another year to get on base, Avisail Garcia has another year to become “Miguel Cabrera” (as he was called his clone while he was with Detroit), and Jose Quintana has another season to become one of the best left-handed starters in baseball. When you consider those existing pieces, in addition to what was mentioned above, the Chicago White Sox will outperform their PECOTA and be contenders in 2015.

2015 Season Previews: Baltimore Orioles

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Baltimore Orioles

Orioles

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 78-84 (5th in AL East, 23rd in MLB)

Manager: Buck Showalter (377-328 in five seasons with Baltimore, 1,259-1,161 in 16 seasons overall)

Top Three Players: 3B Manny Machado (5.0), OF Adam Jones (3.4), DH Steve Pearce (3.2)

Bounce-back Player: 3B Manny Machado

Manny Machado may have injuries to both knees on his resume, but he will be 22 years old until July, which seems wild considering he already has 1,266 plate appearances in his brittle career. The gold glove third baseman is primed for a breakout in 2015, if he can manage to stay on the field. The ball jumped off of his bat in 2014, as 15 percent of his hits went out of the yard – an eye-popping stat when you consider the friendliness of Camden Yards (just 7.9 percent in 2013). Machado’s slight increase in walk-rate (from 4.1 percent in 2013 to 5.6 percent in 2014) brings hope for further growth in that area, as he has only swung at 49.4 percent of pitches in his career, ranking 55th in MLB (among players with 1,000 plate appearances since 2012) over his career, showing that he isn’t a free-swinger. His approach may never lead to Joey Votto comparisons, but it wouldn’t be surprising for Machado to start reaching some of the offensive numbers that led to comparisons to early Nomar

This is the year Gausman becomes an ace...right?

This is the year Gausman becomes an ace…right?

Garciaparra production, and he would be about a year younger than Garciaparra if he reaches those numbers in 2015. Machado should be an All-Star level producer for the next decade, and a healthy Machado reaches that expectation this year.

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Kevin Gausman

Remember Gausman’s September?

I Split W L W-L% ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO9 SO/W
Sept/Oct 0 1 .000 2.87 5 5 0 0 31.1 27 12 10 2 9 29 1.149 8.3 3.22
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2015.

The hard-throwing right-hander moved quickly through the Baltimore system, gaining and providing valuable innings down the stretch for the O’s. Only time will tell as to whether that quick elevation led to a lower ceiling for Gausman, but based on the late season results and the mid-90’s heat, Gausman could become the next Justin Verlander. The elevated WHIP and unimpressive strikeout totals will likely be a thing of the past, as Gausman continues to harness his stuff and moves to the top of the Orioles’ rotation and becomes one of the top starters in the American League.

Offseason Overview: The Orioles lost outfielder Nick Markakis and DH Nelson Cruz to free agency, replacing the two with Travis Snider and Alejandro De Aza. Neither player will come close to the league-leading 40 home runs that Cruz hit, they likely will combine for half of that, but the Orioles are banking on the healthier seasons from Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado, while hoping for continued production from Steve Pearce. The major faces remain in the rotation and bullpen, so, beyond health, the Orioles will continue to bank on their young players, like Gausman, Machado, and Jonathan Schoop (who could become an offensive force at second) to continue to contend, leaning on Adam Jones as the face of the franchise. The Orioles will have impressive defense and power from their arms and their bats.

The Verdict: Buck Showalter has continued to lead his teams to contention, keeping Baltimore competitive the last three seasons, including the AL East title while dealing with insane amounts of injuries in 2014. He appears ready to trust his younger players to produce, and he’ll likely allow the chains to come off of Gausman in 2015, and, perhaps, Dylan Bundy can prove 100 percent recovered from elbow surgery to be a factor down the stretch. The Orioles could be better in 2015 with improved health and productive, contract-year performances out of Davis, Wieters, Bud Norris, and Wei-Yin Chen, and this could be the final year with this group before free agency really pulls it apart. They, too, will perform better than their PECOTA, as Showalter proves his worth and the talent overcomes the doubt.

2015 Season Previews: Houston Astros

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Houston Astros

Courtesy: MLB.com

Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 77-85 (5th in AL West, 24th in MLB)

Manager: A.J. Hinch (1st season with Houston, 89-123 in two seasons overall)

Top Three Players: 2B Jose Altuve (3.2), LHP Dallas Keuchel (2.8), OF George Springer (2.5)

Bounce-back Player: OF/DH Evan Gattis

Gattis doesn’t really make sense in a bounce-back spot due to posting an .810 OPS in 2014. After all, he hit 22 home runs in just 108 and 401 plate appearances. However, people seemed to sour on the slugger due to his ineffectiveness behind the plate, as he allowed 53 stolen bases and threw out just 20 percent of would-be base stealers (league average was 28 percent). Gattis, though, was likely miscast in that role anyway, and his move to the American League presents the opportunity to DH, especially with the Astros having Jason Castro, Hank Conger, and Max Stassi as options at catcher. Gattis will likely play left field a majority of the time, keeping Chris Carter at the DH spot, but this will allow Gattis to play every day. Based on his power numbers, you’re looking at a left fielder with 30 or more home runs in a quickly improving Astros lineup. While he may not be “bouncing back”, Gattis will certainly be jumping forward with his most productive season, as he is in his prime (age-28 season) and will get plenty of at bats.

Singleton/Springer the new Bagwell/Biggio?  Courtesy: sportsonearth.com

Singleton/Springer the new Bagwell/Biggio?
Courtesy: sportsonearth.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: 1B Jon Singleton

Some fantasy fans will be scared off from Singleton due to his .168 batting average and the fact that he struck out in 37 percent of his at bats in his 2014 season; however, you can take advantage of his faded future stardom by others jumping off of the bandwagon. There were several positives in his atrocious .168/.285/.335, mainly his 13.8 percent walk-rate and his .168 ISO, which would have matched Adrian Beltre and Hunter Pence for right about 55th in MLB (if he had enough plate appearances to qualify). Additionally, Singleton’s .238 BABIP showed quite a bit of bad luck, and some of those balls may fall (or fly out of the park) in 2015. Plus…Singleton had a 20.7 percent infield fly ball rate, which would have led MLB – if that is something that someone actually “leads”. He won’t turn 24 until the middle of September and he has a ton of power, patience at the plate, and a team willing to play him despite the strikeouts (see Carter, Chris) – if they don’t go away.

Offseason Overview: The Astros were able to get 3B Luis Valbuena and RHP Dan Straily from the Cubs for Dexter Fowler, while acquiring OF Evan Gattis from the Braves for a package of solid prospects (3B Rio Ruiz, RHP Michael Foltynewicz, and RHP Andrew Thurman). They signed OF Colby Rasmus and SS Jed Lowrie, and, suddenly, the team has another fresh look. The Gattis trade may go down as a steal for the Braves (Ruiz is very good and Foltynewicz has the arm to be an elite reliever if he doesn’t make it as a starter), but Matt Dominguez still has four seasons of team-control (including this season), and the club acquired Colin Moran from the Marlins last season, so the depth was there. The deals that they made provided a lot of depth, as Houston has three very good options at catcher, Dominguez and Valbuena can share third and be productive, while Rasmus appears to be a bench player if he is unable to beat out Jake Marisnick for the job in right, as Gattis should be in left and Springer will be in center. We will see if the philosophy that Jeff Luhnow has developed ends up working, but this winter definitely improved the roster.

The Verdict: PECOTA sees the Astros falling back into the AL West cellar, and with the rotation that they have, that seems likely, but they’re also predicted to win SEVEN more games than they did in 2014. While they’ll still have one of the lowest payrolls in MLB, the organization appears ready to make moves necessary to improve the team, even dealing away pieces of their future due to the tremendous amount of depth that has been created within the system. Slowly but surely, the Astros are getting there. We’re another season away from seeing RHP Mark Appel, SS Carlos Correa, RHP Vincent Velasquez, and OF Brett Phillips in major roles for the big league club, and once they are there, the rebuild will officially be on the verge of taking the leap to contention. Until then, it’s another season to hope for positive gains and see if the Astros make a run at some of the huge names who will be available next winter.

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