I’m a little late to the prediction party. Forgive me…between a new baby in the house, a terrible two-year-old, and trying to figure out how I may or may not die from COVID, it’s been a little difficult lately to write. The other months in between have been lost due to parenting. Being an involved husband, father, educator, and lawn care specialist is very time-consuming.
Regardless, with just four teams having played one of their 60 games, it isn’t too late to share what I think is going to happen, right?
AL East Champions: New York Yankees
Newly-signed ace RHP Gerrit Cole showed exactly what he was capable of by shutting down the Nationals on Opening Night. The power of OFs Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge will play up in a shortened season, especially in a division with several teams changing directions or rebuilding (Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles). The only competition is a fierce one from the Rays.
They aren’t the same cheaters but they continue to have a very talented lineup and pitching staff. Their depth may be a bit of a problem offensively, but if they get Yordan Alvarez healthy and Alex Bregman continues to get better approaching his prime, the 2017 *champions* should run away with the AL West
AL Playoff Teams: Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, and Chicago White Sox
AL Cy Young Award: New York Yankees RHP Gerrit Cole
AL MVP: Cleveland Indians SS Francisco Lindor
AL Rookie of the Year: Chicago White Sox OF Luis Robert
They’re extremely young, especially their starting pitching, but they have so much talent. OF Ronald Acuna, Jr. is going to continue to blossom into the best thing since Mike Trout, and, if fully recovered from COVID, 1B Freddie Freeman is one of – if not the best – offensive first basemen in the league. They are well on their way to a 1990s style run with this core.
NL Central Champions: Cincinnati Reds
Their pitching staff is deep. They loaded up on offensive weapons. This is a team that will make a quick turnaround from a couple of disappointing seasons. The biggest upgrade was made in the middle of 2019 when they added RHP Trevor Bauer. He and many others on the pitching staff have benefitted from pitching coordinator and Driveline Baseball president Kyle Boddy over the last several years, with Bauer using some of his unique knowledge to work with Reds’ No.2 prospect Hunter Greene. If they can get some magic from 1B Joey Votto, there is a lot of talent to mash offensively present in 3B Eugenio Suarez, 2B Mike Moustakas, and OF Nicholas Castellanos.
NL West Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers
Giving up a couple of prospects and their 4th outfielder, the Dodgers were able to snag OF Mookie Betts from the financially strapped, huge market, Boston Red Sox (did you catch the sarcasm?). An injury to LHP Clayton Kershaw has already hit, but the club has RHP Walker Buehler to step in as the ace and, one of their top prospects, RHP Dusin May, stepped in to show his nasty arsenal and nasty Carrot Top afro to the world on Opening Night. A healthy SS Corey Seager and continued slugging from OF Cody Bellinger and 1B Max Muncy helps the Dodgers be the class of the West and of the NL.
NL Playoff Teams: Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, and New York Mets
NL Cy Young Award: Los Angeles Dodgers RHP Walker Buehler
NL MVP: Atlanta Braves OF Ronald Acuna, Jr.
NL Rookie of the Year: Los Angeles Dodgers 2B Gavin Lux
NL Manager of the Year: Cincinnati Reds David Bell
NL Pennant: Los Angeles Dodgers
World Series Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers over Cleveland Indians in six games
As the second half of the MLB season began in Texas on Thursday night, I felt like it was time to update my blog again. As a teacher and father, this site isn’t what it used to be, but I still love to look out for the next big thing as a long-time baseball nerd and fantasy baseball geek. Enjoy and comment away!!!
Below is my annual prospect list. Take what you want from this list. I am not paid by a team, nor do I have the opportunity to view many of these players in person. It’s just one of the hundreds of lists that you can compare it to each year. I am a husband, father, and teacher, so I can’t devote as much time as I used to towards writing, but I thoroughly enjoy compiling this list before each season and revisiting it at the midpoint of the year.
He may have reported to camp in what the kids say would be “thicc”, but he is going to hit…and he is also going to spend time in the minors due to the nature of team-control and budgetary restrictions that teams have put on themselves, rather than just focusing on winning. You have to love his comps: a blend of his father and Miguel Cabrera – you’d take that every chance you could, right?
After the success of Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna, Jr., many prospect lovers will clamor for Franco to be the next elite-level teenager in the majors. He won the Appalachian League ROY after posting 28 extra-base hits in just 242 ABs, walking more than he struck out at the tender age of 17. He’s going to be at the top of this list once the other three crack the bigs by June.
When Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies, PECOTA had the Nationals with about the same projected number of wins. Why? Because – IF – Robles can stay healthy, he is capable of production across the board offensively, with elite defense. With Robles and Soto in Washington, they’ll be okay.
Adell just hurt himself in spring training while running the bases, but he’s proven to be an athletic super-talent. With all of the “how much money can Mike Trout earn” articles after the signings of Harper and Manny Machado this offseason, perhaps the Angels could reach to their minor leagues instead of their pockets for their next star.
He’s a monster. He also has been caught cheating already. Based on what Trevor Bauer says about Astros’ pitchers, he’ll fit right in. He’s a potential ace for a team with two of them on their current roster. If he stays healthy, he could be Houston’s third-best pitcher by the end of the season.
Cincinnati management keeps saying that he could open the year in center. He’s an athlete, but there could be some growing pains for people who are used to watching Billy Hamilton patrol center. Still, with the albatross that Hamilton was at the dish, Senzel could stay on the bench and leave center empty and STILL look like a better player than Hamilton did at times.
Bichette gets lost in the sparkle surrounding Guerrero, but he is an elite prospect in his own right. His speed and gap power could continue to inflate his stock if and when those doubles turn into bombs.
Trammell is a potential fantasy monster. He reminds me of what Gregory Polanco was supposed to become. The Double-A test will go a long way in determining whether he can be a piece to build around or just another part.
The numbers are insane. His opportunities this spring have been dominant. He could be the best A’s pitcher the moment that he takes the mound, and he could be this year’s version of Walker Buehler for fantasy teams.
The Troy Tulowitzki comparisons were unfair. A breathing shortstop with any offensive abilities will have to live with that in Colorado for a long time. Still, Rodgers is an intriguing piece. Keeping Nolen Arenado around for the long haul will keep the Rockies offense relevant, and Rodgers could be another part to trouble the opposition.
His first full season didn’t have the dominant numbers of his first taste of the minors, but the stuff is still there. He has No.1 potential on stuff alone. His lanky frame allows for projectability so it could get better by the time he lands in San Diego.
His inclusion in the deal for J.T. Realmuto was what was holding up the deal. It finally happened and the deal was consummated. He’ll become solid and the Marlins will trade him, as they do everyone. Enjoy him while he’s there, Marlin fan.
Has he been on this list for a decade yet? Seems like it! The Cardinals rotation is a guess due to the issues with Carlos Martinez and his constant injuries and Adam Wainwright another year older. Reyes is in a prime position to be an asset this season.
Another small guy who can do a little bit of everything. Is he a shortstop or a second baseman? The two-year contract that Ian Kinsler signed could mean that Urias is at short until Tatis is ready. Will he prove himself worthy enough to take over the keystone by that point?
The first baseman/pitcher project has officially died. McKay will take on the dreaded DH label early for those of you who enjoy fantasy baseball. Still, that arm could be special enough, and it is special enough, to warrant this spot.
As a fan of the Cleveland Indians, I’ve been fortunate to share in my enjoyment with some awesome people and fellow writers, first at Bleacher Report, then Wahoos on First, and now at Always the Jake. The site has all kinds of great stuff, including a Twitter feature that has all of the Indians news that you need from various sites, all in one stop! Check it out and follow the site on Twitter and Facebook, too!
Here are some great articles from the site to check out:
The first half of the season is officially over as we head into the All-Star break. Tonight’s Homerun Derby will be exciting for fans of the National League, as only one of the eight competitors, Astros 3B Alex Bregman, comes from the American League, but, for those who aren’t interested in this event, you may be seeking help in the second half of your fantasy baseball season.
Here are five players to watch in the second half of the 2018 season, who could even out their statistics to become the players everyone wants early in 2019 drafts!
Urena is 2-9 with a 4.39 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. So, why would he be someone to acquire? The 26-year-old has some positive things to keep in mind for gains going forward in his 3.70 FIP, which ranks just behind the ranks of Lance McCullers, Jr., Jameson Taillon, and Eduardo Rodriguez. He also is striking out more (7.37 vs. 5.99) and walking fewer (2.32 vs. 3.39) batters per nine this season, while posting a near league-average BABIP of .304. Not to mention he has significantly increased his groundball percentage (from 43.1 last year to 53.1 this year), while cutting his HR/FB rate from 13.1% to 11.1% this season. Sure, he was 14-7 last year and the wins won’t be coming from the team behind him in Miami, but he should look better over the second half AND he could get traded since Miami doesn’t like talent!
Pivetta is an interesting case. He has absurd strikeout totals this season, posting a 10.57 K:9, leading to a sexy 113:30 K:BB over 96.1 innings in the first half. Like Urena, this puts him in the top 30 in FIP with a 3.74 FIP, but that goes with a ghastly 4.63 ERA. The 6’5″ 25-year-old has been bitten by the longball, which has severely damaged his value, allowing 14 bombs on a 15.4% HR/FB rate, which is actually lower than last season. He has been a bit unlucky on the BABIP side of things, as that stat stands at .329. Could he be trade bait as the Phillies go for a veteran arm or another bat? Possibly. Is he a future ace? Unlikely. But he misses enough bats at the major league level to warrant several looks, and his numbers, with a little help, could look much nicer at the end of the season.
Can you really trust a Rockies’ pitcher? Well, that 3.11 ERA is likely to increase…likely…but – maybe not! Why would Freeland be any different? He has a 4.08 FIP, a lucky .269 BABIP, and has an elevated 82.5 LOB%, so he screams regression, right? Wrong! The 25-year-old lefty strikes out a little over seven per nine, but the reason that he could keep it up is the inability of opposing batters to make hard contact. In spacious Coor’s Field, you may think that doesn’t matter much, but Freeland has a 29.9% hard contact rate (12th lowest in MLB) and a 21.5% soft contact rate (11th highest in MLB). With a talented infield and over 70% of baseballs not getting hit hard, Freeland could continue to stifle the competition…even pitching half of his games in Coor’s Field!
Kepler hasn’t had a great season, slashing just .227/.317/.407 in 366 plate appearances. He has hit better against LHP than RHP this season (.263 vs. .211), but the ball just hasn’t been falling in for him, evidenced by his .243 BABIP. He makes more hard contact and less soft contact than Orioles’ SS Manny Machado, but he just doesn’t have the numbers to match…not even close. However, Kepler is showing some positive gains in 2018 that warrant his spot here. He has cut his K rate from 20.1% to 15.6%, while increasing his BB rate from 8.3% to 11.7%. He is showing signs of breaking out of his season-long slump this month, posting a .255/.367/.490 triple-slash in 60 July plate appearances. Kepler, just 25, could lead the Twins to a strong finish, while the likes of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano struggle with injuries and lack of production…yet again.
Everything about the 2018 season for Kipnis screams bad luck. Sure, there have been times where he wasn’t very good, but the .222/.312/.360 line is a far cry from his .264/.337/.416 career line. Not to mention, this is the same guy who had 23 HR and 82 RBI in 2016! At 31, Kipnis is walking at a 10.8% clip (9.5% for career) and striking out at a 19.7% clip (19.1% for career), but it’s the .258 BABIP (.309 career) that has plagued him this season, and the last two seasons (he hit .232/.291/.414 last year with a .256 BABIP). Since getting moved towards the bottom of the order on May 15th, Kipnis is hitting .267/.360/.459, and his BABIP is closer to the league average at .297. How bad was the start of the season, then? He hit .170/.256/.248 with a .216 BABIP prior to that! So the .937 OPS that he has in the month of July is a nice sign of this continued slump-busting that Kipnis is partaking in…and you should, too!
While you may have been force-fed for the last twenty years that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees or even the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs are the greatest rivalries in baseball, we are well on our way to witnessing the greatest rivalry in baseball – MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred versus the fans of baseball.
After focusing on the pace of play since his arrival as commissioner in January of 2015, he has recently hinted at eliminating the defensive shift. Mind you, we just passed the 72nd anniversary of the Cleveland Indians and manager Lou Boudreau shifting against Ted Williams on July 14, 1946, but…now…in 2018, as more than 35,000 shifts have taken place in MLB this season, Manfred would like to change defensive shifts.
The lack of offense is the biggest issue for him and the competition committee. The same competition committee that wants to make a game go quicker for those who don’t enjoy watching a lengthy game, want to make it harder for teams to get outs by eliminating the defensive shift, which will make the game longer!
Nevermind the talented, brilliant minds who have utilized statistical analysis for all 30 MLB franchises to help them gain an advantage over the competition, some obviously better than others, we are now at the mercy of those who don’t know what they want for the game of baseball, as they seem to be wavering between what is happening in the seats and what is happening on the field, not knowing the best way to truly make the game more favorable for the fans or the players.
If teams can’t shift, they’ll find new ways to dominate, before that is outlawed. Imagine if the NBA banned seven-footers because their players can’t shoot over them…Maybe MLB teams will find more pitchers who miss bats than they already have, since the shift won’t matter when players can’t put the ball in play:
MLB is on pace for fewer than 50 balls in play per game for the first time ever.
As a longtime fan, it is hard to fathom baseball changing much. While I can get behind the designated hitter being a part of both leagues – it just doesn’t make sense that there are two different games going on, especially with roster structures come playoff and World Series time – there aren’t other parts of the games that need the major tweaking that Manfred seems to want. These include the mound visit limits that were implemented this season (thanks a lot, Willson Contreras), the possibility of starting extra innings with a runner on second base, and, now, forcing two infielders to be on each side of second base to eliminate that pesky shift.
But all of these changes to the game are just to make it shorter – outside of the shift – and it’s hard to understand why these changes are necessary.
I’m aware that many people now have an attention span that doesn’t outlast that of a goldfish, but, perhaps, they will be okay looking at skinny jeans at the mall and trying the latest avocado-infused craft beer instead of complaining about how long a baseball game is lasting…which they’re not watching half the time due to their focus on their $1,000 iPhones! For those people, the Facebook Watch recaps are wonderful. Why do people want a game to be shortened that they love? I love extra innings when I go to a game – it’s free baseball!
Maybe the issue isn’t the fans who love baseball – it’s MLB’s infatuation with the people who don’t love baseball…the people who they want to have as fans while losing their focus on the fans who are already in love with the game.
The battle is all wrong for Manfred. The players are happy because they have more money coming their way – unless you’re Bryce Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, who think that the shift isn’t fair as he continues to hit into it religiously. The owners have more money coming from revenue than they seem to be investing in their teams. It’s the fans who love the game who are losing the battle with the commissioner, who is focused on who isn’t in the seats more than who is, and who doesn’t like baseball more than those who do.
A game that has been around as long as baseball doesn’t need to change. Rob Manfred needs to change his focus.
The Pending Free Agency Doom of Bryce Harper is Healed and…Forgotten???
At the end of the 2017 season, Nationals all-world super-prospect Victor Robles made his arrival to Washington and showed some of the power and speed (two triples) that made him the No.4 prospect (MLB.com, I, personally, had him No.6) in all of baseball heading into the 2018 season. He would, likely, be in Washington right now if not for his hyperextended elbow, which shelved him on April 9th at Triple-A Syracuse. Sadly, his injury has opened the door for a new player, Juan Soto, who is never going to give up his spot.
Soto was a highly ranked prospect in his own right. He signed for $1.5 million in 2015 out of the Dominican Republic. At the tender age of 19, he has obliterated every minor league level, posting a .362/.434/.609 line, with 30 doubles, eight triples, 20 bombs, and a 66:58 K:BB in all of 512 minor league plate appearances. He played in all of eight games at Double-A before jumping to the majors, where he has done nothing short but continue to rake, posting a .344/.447/.641 line in his first 20 games and 76 plate appearances (going into Friday’s game).This is one teenager who has lived up to the hype. As someone who has watched the entire career of Bryce Harper, I can comfortably say that Juan Soto’s arrival will make his departure from Washington an easier pill to swallow. For all of the love that Harper receives, and don’t get me wrong – he is a gifted player, he hasn’t had the career that warrants the type of contract that some sad team will inexcusably hand him and Scott Boras after the 2018 season. Sure, he has youth on his side – he’ll be just 26 this October- but youth and prior production doesn’t lead to years of production in later seasons. You can look at the contracts of Jason Heyward with Chicago, Chris Davis in Baltimore, and Jacoby Ellsbury in New York for the possible void of truth in that type of logic.
Harper’s best season was his 2015 MVP campaign. He followed that up with a down 2016, an injury-shortened 2017, and an interesting start to the 2018 season. He’s leading the NL in both home runs (19) and walks (50), while currently sporting the worst average of his career (.224). Despite that low average, his OPS would rank the 3rd highest of his career. The .213 BABIP doesn’t help, nor does his ability (or inability) to hit against the shift. There was an amazing article on his lack of success this season at Fangraphs that you should read, and the trends have continued since the article was published on 6/5. Still, who in their right mind would bank $300 million or the $400 million that some think it would take over a decade to a player who peaked at 22? The Nationals should feel comfortable not being that team. They have Max Scherzer through 2021 and Stephen Strasburg through 2023, Robles could be another producer, while Soto has, albeit in a small sample size, proven that his minor league, video-game-like production could be his norm at the top level. This is a team that can build in more productive ways than the franchise debilitating super-contract that would come with re-signing their star.
Juan Soto, a 19-year-old who became the first teenager to hit two home runs and walk once in the history of Yankee Stadium, a young man they call the “Childish Bambino”, a young man who can’t possess a Budweiser but does possess the barreling bat of a dynamic veteran, has taken over the future of the franchise in Washington. As fans watch Harper have a season of three outcomes, they can see this star in the making give a glimpse of life without the hard-nosed, oft-injured star, resting comfortably in what the future holds.
When Ronald Acuna Jr. takes the field on Wednesday night in Cincinnati, the Atlanta Braves will see their 20-year-old star-in-the-making make his Major League debut, which seems long-awaited due to Acuna’s time in the minors that was to avoid service time issues in later seasons, having apparently turned down an extension that was similar to the one that the Philadelphia Phillies handed out to rookie utility player Scott Kingery this spring.
Now, the supposed generational talent will showcase his skills and become a possible All-Star, knocking out the playing time of OF Preston Tucker, who just a few days was leading the league in RBI. Certainly, Acuna’s prospect star shines a bit brighter than that of Tucker, and nearly every other prospect in the minors, which is why his arrival could change not only the Braves’ season but the future of baseball.
The process that the Atlanta Braves began several years ago is beginning to take shape right now. Utilizing talented young players like Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Max Fried, A.J. Minter, and Luiz Gohara, the Braves have introduced the first wave of a stacked system that will change the recent lack of success that has come along with Atlanta’s rebuild. With the upcoming free agency of Washington Nationals’ OF Bryce Harper, the entire National League East could be up for grabs as soon as 2019, and the Braves have positioned themselves to begin another dynasty, even after losing several players due to idiotic management by former GM John Copolella.
As a 19-year-old in 2017, Acuna played at three minor league levels, compiling the below statistics:
These numbers have allowed scouts to compare him to Mike Trout, who has compiled a massive 56.5 bWAR in his eight seasons. The power and speed combination overshadow the swing-and-miss in his game, as well as the 20 times that he was caught stealing, but, even if anyone did spend time saying those numbers need to improve, he is young enough to make adjustments and strengthen the already gaudy ability that he has.
Fantasy baseball players will have a hard time getting the young star, as he has been stashed in most leagues; however, if you’ve got people who, somehow, don’t know who he is or what he could become, then have at it and go grab him NOW!
I don’t mean that he’s a giant bird, but he has caused Reds fans significant psychological grief for quite some time. It is hard to grasp what he is doing with his skill-set, as he can’t seem to figure out how to utilize his only tool worthy or ranking – speed.
Hamilton’s speed is what makes him a viable option in centerfield for the Reds. Ok…his speed and the fact that he is wearing a glove on his left hand. Beyond that, Hamilton has worn out his welcome as an everyday player, and it is time that Cincinnati does something about this problem.
This isn’t about 12 at-bats in 2018. This isn’t about the time that he was a huge jerk at the annual Cincinnati Reds Caravan – so much so that Reds’ Hall of Famer (yes, team-only) Eric Davis told him to slow down and enjoy the moment when a fan is in front of him. This has everything to do with the fact that as Hamilton makes his 2,000th career Major League plate appearance on Thursday in Pittsburgh, that he’ll be trying to improve upon his career .247/.297/.333 career line, his 19.5% strikeout rate, and his 33.7% flyball rate. Better yet, with his speed, Hamilton needs to improve upon his BABIP (yes, there is some luck involved in this number, but a few more balls not in the air would improve this statistic), which is just above league average at .304 for his career.
As the great (fake) skipper from the American classic Major League, Lou Brown, taught the legendary Willie Mays Hayes – with some negative reinforcement, “With your speed, you should be hitting the ball on the ground and be legging them out. Every time I see you hit one in the air, you owe me 20 push-ups.”
Sadly, in his nearly 2,000 plate appearances, Billy Hamilton hasn’t figured it out.
With the lack of adjustment on his part, there is a better solution than another putrid season of 600 plate appearances with rancid production, and that is to make Billy Hamilton into a super-utility player.
The 4-man outfield rotation doesn’t need one of those players on a daily basis, especially at the cost of Adam Duvall in left, who is one of the top offensive left fielders in baseball (look it up, it’s a weak position), or Jesse Winker, who needs plate appearances to get acclimated to MLB pitching to afford the Reds an opportunity to see what they have. In addition to Duvall and Winker, Scott Schebler has shown that his bat doesn’t need a platoon-mate, and the Reds can certainly use his power as he can patrol center in a respectable manner.
Certainly, the defense would take a hit for the Reds without Hamilton running around, but when the pitching staff is as patchworked together as it is, how many balls is Hamilton going to rob from 10 rows up in the outfield? And, when they’re playing from behind, how are they going to come back from deficits when you have two easy outs in the lineup (Hamilton and the pitcher’s spot)?
As a super-utility player, Hamilton can avoid the lineup several times per week, while providing breaks at short, second, and center. He’d need to take some time in Louisville to reacquaint himself with the infield; however, he was a shortstop prior to moving to center to streamline his promotion when the Reds still had Zack Cozart and Didi Gregorius in the system at short. This role also allows the Reds to use Hamilton in a pinch-runner role on days that he isn’t in the lineup in key spots, opening up the opportunity for him to run as effectively as he did upon his call-up in 2013 when he stole 13 bases and had just 19 plate appearances. Finally, this role would eliminate the need to carry Phil Gosselin or Cliff Pennington, allowing the club to carry an additional relief pitcher.
Billy Hamilton can run. Billy Hamilton can field. In an age where offense is aplenty, defensive wizardry is sought after, and speed is at a premium, he is still finding a way to make himself the weakest link in the chain. Fortunately for Hamilton and the Cincinnati Reds, there are better solutions to the team’s needs that the soon-to-be 28-year-old can take over. It just takes a little creativity to make Hamilton a viable piece to the Cincinnati Reds’ puzzle again.