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!
2015 Projected Record: 79-83 (5th in NL Central, 21st in MLB)
Manager: Bryan Price (76-86 in one season with Cincinnati)
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.
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.
I like to say that I love baseball and that I don’t have a favorite team, but the fact of the matter is that I was born and raised in Cincinnati and I can’t help but hope for the best for my hometown Reds. It’s hard to say that I’m disappointed in a team that won more than 90 games in three of the last five seasons, but a season without a championship isn’t an absolute success, and the Reds haven’t won the World Series since 1990. They, along with 28 other teams, get to look up at the San Francisco Giants until next Fall, but are the Reds in a position to contend in 2015?
The club finished with 76 wins in 2014, finishing 14 games out of the NL Central and in 4th place in the division. While the Cardinals reloaded by acquiring OF Jason Heyward from Atlanta, the Pirates continue to get better with experience and tremendous, young talent, and the Cubs finally opened their wallets and brought in LHP Jon Lester to anchor an incredibly gifted, young roster, the Reds were making changes in their own way. The Reds haven’t been as desolate as they were last offseason, when they basically added Skip Schumaker to the mix after losing Shin-Soo Choo to the Rangers. There was some wheeling and dealing being done by GM Walt Jocketty, but the direction of those deals was a bit odd.
The addition of OF Marlon Byrd, who has 49 home runs and an .800 OPS over the last two seasons, is an improvement over what OF Ryan Ludwick had done over the same time period (11 home runs and a .666 OPS); however, he’s 37 years old and his strikeout rate jumped to a career-high 29 percent while he posted an inflated .341 BABIP. The Byrd acquisition came after the club dealt Alfredo Simon to Detroit for RHP Jonathan Crawford and INF Eugenio Suarez, and RHP Mat Latos to the Marlins for C Chad Wallach and RHP Anthony DeSclafani. Both Simon and Latos were due to become free agents after the 2015 season, so the deals made sense for the Reds if they were heading into a rebuilding mode, but the deal for Byrd didn’t make much sense for a rebuilding team, as they traded a solid, young arm in Ben Lively to the Phillies to acquire Byrd.
Personally, the deal with the Tigers appears to be a steal. Simon never pitched the way that he had in a starting role prior to the 2014 season, and his FIP (4.33) says much more about his performance than his 3.44 ERA and 15 wins show. The fact that the Reds received the Tigers 1st round pick from the 2013 MLB Draft, Crawford, was pretty impressive, but Suarez, who rose quickly through the Tigers system and looks like a solid middle infielder to build around, in addition to Crawford was a coup.
The deal with the Marlins was a little less impressive, in my opinion. Wallach looks like a catching-version of Kevin Youkilis, posting solid K:BB rates in the minors, but DeSclafani was solid throughout his minor league career (3.23 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 354.1 IP), but wasn’t able to miss as many bats upon his promotion to the Marlins, when he had a 6.27 ERA (3.77 FIP) and allowed 10.9 H/9 IP. DeSclafani looks like a decent back-end starter, but you’d think Jocketty could have received more for Latos than that, given the insane money that will be thrown at pitchers on the free agent market.
Still, after the deals, the Reds are out in baseball purgatory. While they acquired a couple of arms in their trades, they still only have three starters worth trusting in the rotation: Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake. Tony Cingrani is an option, but outside of the questions about his secondary stuff, you have to wonder if his shoulder will continue being an issue after it cost him some time in 2014. Outside of those four, the Reds have more question marks in the rotation, as David Holmberg, Dylan Axelrod, Daniel Corcino, and Cuban import Raisel Iglesias bring unknown skills and suspect resumes to a potentially lengthy Spring Training competition for the No.5 spot in the group.
In addition to the questions in the rotation, the Reds have to address their depth. Suarez is a very nice option to fill-in at second base and shortstop, likely a much better option than Ramon Santiago was when he was asked to take over for Brandon Phillips‘ lengthy DL stint in 2014. Brayan Pena was impressive when pushed into an unfamiliar role, filling in at first base when Joey Votto was out for so long with his knee injury, but he wasn’t productive enough to offset the loss of the team’s franchise player.
Speaking of the franchise player…who is it? Can Cincinnati count of Joey Votto? Is Jay Bruce ever going to find consistency? Is Johnny Cueto going to re-sign, and, can the Reds afford to sign him OR afford to let him leave? Is Devin Mesoraco the future of the franchise? Can Billy Hamilton hit enough to become a difference-maker to the franchise?
The Reds still have a lot of talent, but they have a lot of questions to answer, as well. Jocketty did a nice job in acquiring more arms and additional depth in his flurry of deals, but if 2015 is the last year that the team will have Cueto and a couple of other solid arms to pitch the club to a division title, did he do enough to win now? Are they trying to win now?
If things break right, the Reds should be competitive enough to make a run in the NL Central, but there will be a lot of luck involved in those breaks. While Cincinnati was spoiled in the 1970’s, it just hasn’t been the same for those of us who were born after 1980. One title in a lifetime doesn’t seem like a lot, but at least it hasn’t been since 1908.
With the All-Star break starting after Sunday’s action, there are some baseball fans who are feeling like a train ran over them, weeping at the thought of discussing their fantasy baseball teams due to horrific production, numerous injuries, and running their squads with their hearts instead of their heads – sitting in last place. The cellar isn’t so bad until all of the wine is gone, but some of us have players to thank for tremendous starts to the 2014 fantasy baseball season. Not all of us can have Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Felix Hernandez, and Troy Tulowitzki, so these are the players who are helping to separate the contenders from the pretenders in the first half of the season:
Altuve is having a career year, on pace for over 220 hits and 70 stolen bases. In an era of huge swing and miss on the offensive side of the game, Altuve lacks patience but makes consistent contact, putting the ball in play to utilize his speed. He leads MLB with his 128 hits, with 20 of those coming on infield hits. With Jon Singleton and George Springer joining him in Houston this season, a glimpse into the Astros’ future is upon us.
“Dr. Smooth” has already eclipsed his previous career-high in home runs (10 in 2013) this season, and will easily surpass his career bests in several other categories, and if that wasn’t enough, he is tied for the MLB lead in outfield assists (10, though he has negative defensive value). You likely don’t earn anything for those throws, but Branley’s bat has kept an up-and-down Indians club in the AL Central race all season. His career contact rates suggest that this breakout is legit – not bad for the player to be named later in the C.C. Sabathia deal, huh?
To think that Gordon was “in the mix” for the second base job this spring after the Dodgers signed Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero seems absurd when looking at his offensive impact this season. The speedster has obviously assisted fantasy players with the league-leading 42 stolen bases, but getting on base (formerly a problem) has allowed him to be driven in by Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and the other Dodger hitters. Sometime you just need a long-term look to show what you have. The Dodgers committed to him, and Gordon is rewarding many people so far this season.
I wasn’t much of a believer in Hamilton given his struggles in Triple-A last season, but he has certainly proven me wrong. While he isn’t leading the league in steals, he has certainly given the Reds an dynamic defender in center and a threat to score at will. The power is just icing on the cake for fantasy owners. His recent tear (.344/.375/.574 over the last 15 games) has not only increased his numbers, they have helped put the Reds back in contention in the NL Central.
Blackmon is an All-Star. He barely had a grasp on the starting left field job when spring training started, so that is about all that you need to know; however, I will share his home and road splits because I’m not so sure his value is legitimate unless you play him during long home stands –
Todd Frazier is the second most valuable third baseman in baseball in 2014 (based on WAR, 3.5), ahead of the likes of Evan Longoria, David Wright, and Adrian Beltre. He’s hitting for power, he’s running, and, the best part, nothing in his numbers truly suggest a regression. With the hot months ahead of us and Great American Ballpark being a notoriously friendly environment, we could easily see 30 home runs and 100 RBI next to his name at the end of the season.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming after Richards had one of the top fastball velocities in baseball in 2013. After all, if you consider that his average fastball was 94.8 mph in 2013, he would have ranked in the top four in baseball behind Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, and Jose Fernandez. Good company. Better results.
Simon is leading MLB in the all important WIN. Ugh…the win…well, it still matters in fantasy. The FIP suggests he could see regression, but the bigger question is the number of innings he will log, as his career-high for innings was in 2011 when he reached 115.2 for Baltimore. He will likely spend some time in the Reds’ bullpen to limit those down the stretch, or a burnout is likely.
His career was nearly over in 2011 due to shoulder issues, he missed all of 2012 and then the solid return in Cleveland was special…but this is incredible. Kazmir deserves this success after overcoming so many obstacles, and the A’s look intelligent, as always, in their wise investment – as do fantasy owners.
Alvarez has a heavy fastball that he can’t blow by many, but it manages to keep the ball on the ground and in the park. That has helped him take a big step forward in his production on the mound this season. At 24, he is a strong dynasty option. He really knows how to pitch and his command will keep him relevant if and when he loses his velocity.
Rickey Henderson ruined it for everyone who came after him. He even ruined it for everyone who came before him. The career .401 on-base percentage, the 1,406 career stolen bases (most in MLB history), and the 2,295 runs scored (most in MLB history) seem to be unreasonable expectations for the No.1 spot in the order in today’s game. With strikeout numbers inflating along with the velocity of pitcher’s fastballs, is it fair to ask a leadoff hitter to post a .400 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage over .400 in 2014?
There are 20 players who have over 50 at-bats out of the leadoff spot with an OPS over .780, with only four of those players having on-base percentages over .400:
At the halfway point, however, only Jose Altuve, Coco Crisp, and Angel Pagan have 10 or more steals while posting an OPS over .780 and an on-base percentage of .360 or higher.
Rickey Henderson, over his entire 25-year career (including the several years that he was “hanging on”), averaged 74 stolen bases over a 162-game season, while having his .401 career on-base percentage and a career .820 OPS.
No one will ever be Henderson, but will any manager want to put a player in the leadoff spot when they are capable of producing a .400 on-base percentage and an OPS at or near .800? Only Shin-Soo Choo meets that criteria among players with 100 or more plate appearances out of the leadoff spot in 2014, but is his speed, or lack of speed, an issue?
It seems like the norm for teams to plug the “fast guy” into a leadoff position. Michael Bourn and Billy Hamilton fit that profile in Cleveland and Cincinnati, and for several years as manager of the Reds, Dusty Baker was running Drew Stubbs out as the leadoff hitter for the same reason. Denard Span, Dee Gordon, Jose Reyes, and Ben Revere all fit the fast-guy-in-the-leadoff-spot-who-can’t-get-on-base-at-a-high-clip profile, as well. If a player is going to be a true table setter and get on base, does that player need to be fast? Could Joey Votto lead off? Could a catcher with a good eye lead off? Is clogging the bases a “thing” or just a part of the managerial “book”?
Consider that a lead off hitter is only guaranteed to lead off an inning one time in a given nine inning game, and that is the first inning…why is it important for that player to have speed? Don’t you want that hitter, as well as everyone else in a lineup, to be capable of getting on base and creating runs? Perhaps getting on base isn’t a necessary part of being a leadoff hitter. Perhaps the ability to make contact is all that any single player in baseball needs to do, at any spot in the order, to be an effective part of a lineup.
In today’s MLB, leadoff hitters can be fast, they can have plate discipline, they can have power, and they can be run producers, but very rarely are any of them the total package. So many teams want Rickey Henderson, but he’ll never happen again. Should fans just expect one of those talents and refrain from bashing their hometown leadoff hitters due to their imperfections?
The perfect leadoff hitter died with the retirement of Henderson. It is time to kill the expectations of the No.1 hitter, along with the pitcher’s win.
The beginning of the season is full of hope and joy…and when reality sets in, that hope and joy can become fear and anger. It makes fans begin to second guess their team’s season after just four games in a 162-game season. Although the first week isn’t officially over, there are already players who have developed a following of Twitter rage, a second guessing that doesn’t allow for patience, and the fear that could result in a player being added to a sell-low trade in their fantasy league after just 12 to 25 at-bats. These players have become the talk of their respective towns for the wrong reasons.
Even after spending the offseason tinkering with his swing, Upton’s ability to make contact has seemed to completely vanish. Upton has gone from a 4.5 (2007) and 4.8 (2008) WAR player to having a -0.6 WAR in 2013 when he hit .184 and had a 56 wRC+. In just the second year of a five-year, $75.2 million deal with Atlanta, the outfielder, who will turn 30 in August, certainly hasn’t provided anything close to what he has been paid by Braves brass. Although it is early in the season, this type of production, or lack there of, will only force the Braves into difficult choices – like moving Evan Gattis to left while playing Jason Heyward in center and Justin Upton in right, while giving Christian Bethancourt some at-bats behind the plate – allowing Upton an opportunity to continue to alter his swing or pray to the baseball gods for some sort of guidance in what appears to be a hopeless adventure.
Can He Rebound?: Upton has had success in the past, but after his failures in 2013, it’s fair to wonder if the tools that made him a half-way decent player have eroded to the point that he can’t be considered a toolsy player anymore. If he doesn’t have tools, he can’t produce. He has talent around him to hide his issues, potentially seeing more fastballs due to the presence of Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman protecting him in the Atlanta order. I can see him rebounding, but he never was a .300 hitter. Even reaching .250 is going to be a chore, but the power and speed combination is always worth waiting on. The Braves paid a lot for him, so he’ll get a long look.
Did anyone think that Hamilton was going to hit .368 like he did in his September call-up last season after he managed to hit just .256 in Triple-A prior to the promotion? You gotta love the golden quote from “classy” St. Louis beat writer Derrick Goold on Hamilton, but his sarcasm and mocking ways aren’t all that different from Reds fans, who are already pretty upset with the breeze that Hamilton is creating near the Ohio River. During Wednesday night’s game, Hamilton’s bunting skills were quite questionable, as well, going directly to Michael Wacha and Matt Carpenter with consecutive attempts – DIRECTLY. I was talking to my wife and said the same thing that Goold said, in a different way: “Speed doesn’t matter when it’s walking back to the dugout.” Maybe Hamilton is trying to hit the ball to the gaps, maybe he is feeling the pressure of replacing an All-Star after the departure of Shin-Soo Choo…Regardless, what he is doing isn’t working, and after injuring his finger on his stolen base attempt on Friday night in New York, hitting may be even more difficult until he is 100 percent.
Can He Rebound?: Hamilton didn’t prove anything in Triple-A last season to overcome the questions in his bat. His speed helps his defense play up, but it doesn’t do anything until he starts getting on base. No one has ever had 200 hits while getting 200 bunt singles in a season, and that won’t happen this year either. Don’t be shocked to see his struggles continue, leading to Chris Heisey and Roger Bernadina manning center while Hamilton refines his craft in Louisville. He will need to get it going quickly there, as well, as Phillip Ervin could easily replace him as the center fielder of the future in Cincinnati.
When considering that this is a contract year for Rasmus, this certainly isn’t the start that he was hoping for. After posting the highest WAR of his career in 2013 (4.8), things were looking up. With Rasmus, though, the swing and miss in his game can overshadow the large, end-of-year counting stats. At one time, Rasmus had a .361 on-base percentage and walked in nearly 12 percent of his at-bats…but that was in 2010, and Rasmus’ patience has seemed to drop while his power numbers ballooned and his defensive skills increased. Which Colby Rasmus is going to show up in 2014? That really can’t be answered, but if he is going to cash-in on his free agency after the season, he needs to get those numbers back to last year’s really quick-like.
Can He Rebound?: Rasmus, like Upton, has a lot of talent around him in Toronto. He has always had crazy abilities, but the makeup has been questioned due to his run-ins with Tony LaRussa and his defensive numbers looking so week prior to 2013. The power is legit and the payoff for success will be huge due to the lack of center field depth in free agency after the 2014 season. It would be easier to see Rasmus rebounding if he wasn’t struggling so much with making contact, while also seeing drops in his plate discipline numbers. He’s at the right age for a huge breakout, and I can see him hitting 30 home runs in 2014, but it won’t always be pretty.
With Roy Halladay retired and Cole Hamels on the disabled list due to shoulder woes, there was a lot expected of the Phillies’ No.1 starter this season. Even though he earned the win, in spite of allowing eight earned runs in five innings (KILL THE WIN!!!), the fans of Philadelphia can’t be pleased with how Lee looked on Opening Day. However, Lee rebounded tremendously this afternoon against the Cubs, tossing seven scoreless innings (10 hits, 6:0 K:BB) to make things a little more “normal” with a 6.00 ERA. Some may warn that the successful outing was due to the opponent, but Philly fans should anticipate more outings like Saturday’s going forward.
Johnson has been, quite possibly, the worst development of the first week of the season. He had faced all of 12 batters and NINE of them had reached base – five of them scoring – heading into Saturday. He did get through an inning today while striking out two, allowing zero runs (hooray!), and allowing only one hit. After imploding in his first two appearances, it was fair to wonder if the A’s would give him the ball in the next save situation, especially with a solid bullpen in Oakland. Today was proof that they aren’t giving up on hit just yet, and with a $10 million salary for this season, it seems very unlikely that Johnson will lose his job too quickly.
Can He Rebound?: Johnson blew nine saves in 2013, lost eight games, and still managed an ERA under 3.00 while closing 50 games out for Baltimore. In fact, he has 101 saves since the start of the 2012 season. This was a lot of money for a team like Oakland to spend on a closer, which leads me to two conclusions: 1) The A’s will win a lot of games this season, and 2) Jim Johnson will remain the closer.
Last year, I went with Toronto, which was an absolute nightmare. They still have a lot of offensive talent, but they don’t have the rotation depth (even with Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez knocking on the door) to compete in this division. I really like the Orioles and I even think that Ubaldo Jimenez can make it work in Baltimore, but I’m hesitant to expect a repeat from Chris Davis in 2014 and we still don’t know the second base situation will work out or when Manny Machado will be full strength. The top three in the East are nearly replaceable parts, as you could put them in any order and look like a genius. For me, Boston doesn’t have the goods this year, having not replaced Jacoby Ellsbury with a legitimate part (Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley, Jr.) and a veteran team another year older screams regression. The Yankees are a mess at second after losing Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, but they added enough parts to look like a team on the rise. The Rays nearly stood pat, but I think that will work for them. A full season from Wil Myers and the tremendous arms in David Price, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb make them a force. While re-signing James Loney was the highlight of their offseason, the Rays are still strong enough defensively and in the rotation to win this division. The only worry is injuries, as their minor league system hasn’t produced many stars as they’ve moved to the back-end of drafts due to their major league success.
American League Central
1st: Detroit Tigers
2nd: Cleveland Indians
3rd: Kansas City Royals
4th: Chicago White Sox
5th: Minnesota Twins
The Central was quite competitive in 2013, as the Tribe and Royals finally pushed the Tigers and made the division look respectable once again, though Chicago and Minnesota were two of the worst teams in all of baseball. Things still look bleak for the latter two teams, as they are both slowly rebuilding by developing their own talent or acquiring talent in trades. The Twins will be a force to be reckoned with within the next couple of seasons when Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano (who will miss all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery), Alex Meyer, and others begin reaching Target Field, and the White Sox will be better with solid, young, major league-ready talent in Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, and Jose Abreu being acquired or signed within the last year. Regardless, this division will be a three-way battle in 2014. The Royals will come up a bit short after losing Ervin Santana‘s production to free agency. While Santana struggled to find consistency throughout his career, Yordano Ventura, no matter how good he may be in his rookie season, likely won’t be able to repeat Santana’s 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 211 innings in his age-23 season in the No.5 starter role. I’m expecting huge things from Eric Hosmer and tremendous improvements out of Mike Moustakas and his new swing, but the rotation isn’t strong enough to contend with the other offenses in this division. The Indians may not win 92 games again this year, but the have the offensive firepower to be a contender. Even with lackluster seasons from Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn, and Nick Swisher in 2013, Cleveland rocked. They’ll struggle due to rotation losses, much like the Royals, needing to replace both Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir‘s innings, but Danny Salazar should continue to establish himself as an electric arm, albeit with around a 170 to 180 innings limit. The Tigers will remain the class of the AL Central due to their rotation. Even after trading Doug Fister, the Tigers were able to replace him with the young lefty Drew Smyly, and the Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez trio should be good for over 600 innings and 600 strikeouts in 2014. Rick Porcello‘s drastic improvements last year leave him heading towards his free agency after the 2015 season, so if he is determined to strike it rich, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be the 2nd best pitcher on the staff this season. Miguel Cabrera may be all that they need, but rookie Nick Castellanos can swing it, Austin Jackson is looking at a breakout season, and Ian Kinsler, even if he is just mediocre away from Arlington, is more than capable of devastating opposing pitchers. The Tigers may be a 100-win team in 2014.
American League West
1st: Los Angeles Angels
2nd: Oakland Athletics
3rd: Texas Rangers
4th: Seattle Mariners
5th: Houston Astros
Houston is brutal, but you have to trust in the processes that GM Jeff Luhnow brought with him from the St. Louis Cardinals. He has quickly turned the minor league system around for the Astros and there is tremendous talent on the way up, but Houston looks like a 95 to 100 loss team once again in 2014, though there are some pieces who will show themselves useful to the organization in Jason Castro, Dexter Fowler (likely trade bait), Brad Peacock, and Jonathan Villar (a poor man’s Everth Cabrera). Seattle improved tremendously and will field a winning team, but they don’t have the talent to overcome the class of the division. The Mariners have plenty of young talent in Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Brad Miller, and Dustin Ackley who will be valuable, but they also have glaring weaknesses in Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders locked into starting roles. If Seattle continues to add pieces over the next couple of seasons to their strong, young core, they’ll get there. The Rangers have been very good for quite some time, and they made the Kinsler trade with Detroit to bring back the big bopper that they lost when Josh Hamilton left for Los Angeles. Prince Fielder should be tremendous in Texas, likely rebounding to the 35 to 40 home run power that we used to see in Milwaukee, while the trade opened up a spot for Jurickson Profar at second. With Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios still around and the additon of Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers should be very tough to keep off of the scoreboard, but with injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison (whose back still isn’t right), the Rangers will heavily lean on Yu Darvish and youngster Martin Perez. They’ll need a lot of help from Colby Lewis (who missed all of 2013) and Tommy Hanson (a shoulder injury away from being out of the league) to be competitive. The A’s have lost A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker to injuries (Parker is out for the season) already this spring, but they still have solid depth in their rotation with Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone, and Jesse Chavez to be solid in the rotation, especially with their spacious home field. Yoenis Cespedes should provide a full season with 30/30 potential, Josh Donaldson can really hit a baseball and pick it in the field nearly as beautifully, and Josh Reddick has a healthy wrist and will want to prove that he is more the 2012 version (32 HR/85 RBI) than last year’s version (12 HR/56 RBI). The A’s are dangerous, and while they don’t look like much offensively in parts of the order, Billy Beane continues to do quite a bit with the talent that he and his operations staff are able to find and get the most out of. The Angels have had a rough go of things in the Albert Pujols era. Mike Trout is now the centerpiece of the team, but the club has continued to put pieces around him, adding David Freese at third, and a couple of solid young arms to a depleted rotation in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. The minor league system is still a hot mess, but the Halos have quite a bit of talent that, if healthy, will allow them to be a dominant team once again. I’m betting on Pujols, Trout, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson in carrying this team back to the top of the West in 2014.
American League Wild Cards
New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics
National League East
1st: Washington Nationals
2nd: Atlanta Braves
3rd: Miami Marlins
4th: Philadelphia Phillies
5th: New York Mets
I may be a bit of an optimist when it comes to the NL East, but I’m seeing things a bit differently than most. The Mets offense is horrendous and they haven’t had a full season of David Wright in two of the last three seasons – plus, Wright’s now on the wrong side of 30. The outfield is a cluster of mediocrity, featuring an aging Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, while the club seems to think that Eric Young, Jr. is an everyday corner outfielder. The rotation is also ugly after losing Matt Harvey late last year. Zack Wheeler is still a work in progress, but a team in need of a rebuild signed Bartolo Colon and Daisuke Matsuzaka to fill their rotation voids. I don’t see it working. The Phillies also feature aging players, and it’s hard to see full seasons out of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley again in 2014. The rotation is hurting a bit with Cole Hamels having shoulder issues and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez looking like garbage after signing out of Cuba, but Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett should continue to be productive. I’d like to see Domonic Brown have another season like 2013 to make Ruben Amaro, Jr. look worse than he already makes himself look with his horrific contracts and clueless way of running the team, after letting Brown waste away for so long in the Phillies’ minor league system. I like the Marlins this year. The rotation is very good: Jose Fernandez is an ace; Henderson Alvarez may not strikeout a ton of guys, but he keeps the ball down and pounds the strike zone; Nathan Eovaldi has an upper-90’s fastball and looks promising; Jacob Turner is up and down like most young starters, but he was once a future No.1 or No.2; A.J. Ramos and Steve Cishek are good at the back-end of the bullpen, and you can’t not like Giancarlo Stanton mashing in the middle of the order. The club will get some offensive help with Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Garrett Jones (only against RHP) in the lineup. They won’t be above .500, but they should be better than the Mets and Phillies in 2014. The Braves are hurting in the rotation after losing Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen to Tommy John surgeries in the last few weeks; however, they still have Julio Teheran, Mike Minor (when he’s over his injury around the second week of April), and Alex Wood, with Gavin Floyd coming back from Tommy John surgery by mid-May. They just need to make it through the first month, and they have enough offense to do that. Jason Heyward is a monster who has struggled, but I’m expecting huge things out of him this season after injuries limited him to 104 games last season. Justin Upton and B.J. Upton will likely rebound, as well, and Freddie Freeman looks to be an MVP candidate after having a breakout season at the age of 23 in 2013. Andrelton Simmons could only build on his breakout 2013, and Atlanta is either going to get a rebound from Dan Uggla or production out of his eventual replacement, Tommy La Stella, at second. The Braves will be great, but not was good as the Nationals. This team is setup to win games and win lots of them. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister present a top four of a rotation that can’t be matched by another club in Major League Baseball. Bryce Harper is jacked and looks primed to reach 30-plus home runs at the age of 21 and Jayson Werth will team with him in the middle of the order to cripple opposing pitchers. Ian Desmond is one of the top offensive shortstops in baseball and Anthony Rendon should establish himself as an All-Star level producer at second this season. Ryan Zimmerman is still a defensive wizard, and, if he can stay on the field, he can come close to 30 home runs and 90 RBI at the hot corner. The Nationals, like the Tigers, are capable or exceeding 100 wins.
National League Central
1st: St. Louis Cardinals
2nd: Cincinnati Reds
3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates
4th: Milwaukee Brewers
5th: Chicago Cubs
The Cubs will be difficult to deal with in 2015, when Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Mike Olt, and Arismendy Alcantara are officially within their everyday lineup; however, in 2014, Chicago will, once again, be the red-headed stepchild of the NL Central, taken out back and beaten in the wood house, or any other form of describing a team that will be laughably bad. If Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo bounce back, they could win 65 to 70 games, but if they’re both as bad as they were in 2013, this is a 100 loss team. The Brewers will be better in 2014. Management has spent money and, while the minor league system rivals the atrociousness of the Angels’ system, Milwaukee has Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis in the lineup to be productive offensively. Wily Peralta should build on his late season success from 2013, and the veteran leadership in the rotation from Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza should lead to an above .500 season. The Brewers just don’t have the depth to overcome injuries to the rotation or the everyday lineup, so they’ll likely run into some trouble in 2014, especially if they’re counting on 200 innings from Garza. The Pirates surprised everyone by winning 94 games in 2013, but they aren’t going to stop there. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Gerrit Cole look like the core of a franchise that will be capable of winning several divisions in a row in coming seasons. With Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, and Gregory Polanco on the way, this club should only get better. Unfortunately, the loss of A.J. Burnett could take its toll on the rotation. Cole and Charlie Morton are effective, Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez, however, haven’t shown much consistency for health or production over their careers. If things break right, the Pirates could be right where they left off, but that’s a big “if”. The Reds lost a lot of production when Shin-Soo Choo signed with Texas. Billy Hamilton will utilize his thoroughbred-like speed to steal bases and score runs, but he doesn’t have the power or on-base skills that Choo brought to the club. With Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in the middle of the order, the Reds have plenty of pop, and if Brandon Phillips rebounds a bit (hard to say with 100-plus RBI, but the average and on-base numbers were rough), the offense should still be in good shape, especially with production from Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier. The rotation is still solid. A healthy Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Tony Cingrani will battle the Washington Nationals for a starting staff ERA title. The scary injury to Aroldis Chapman hurts the bullpen for the next six to eight weeks (his real-life health is more important considering what happened), but J.J. Hoover, Sean Marshall, and Jonathan Broxton have each closed games before. The window is closing in Cincinnati quickly, though, so they could make some moves to make a late season push. St. Louis and the “Cardinal way” is frustrating to watch as a lifelong Cincinnati native and Reds fan, but you have to appreciate their success. The team is setup to be dominant once again. Strong offensive output from Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and Matt Adams will carry the team, while Jhonny Peralta, Peter Bourjos, and Kolten Wong make adjustments to new leagues or life in the majors. The club has a .300 hitting, 30 home run talent waiting in the wings in Oscar Taveras if an injury strikes in the outfield or an infield corner, but the rotation depth is what makes them unbelievably good. Joe Kelly, who had a 2.28 ERA over 15 starts in 2013, may not even be in the rotation. Adam Wainwright could be joined by Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Martinez. Any other team would likely be starting Trevor Rosenthal, but the Cards can let him close thanks to their rotation depth, which hasn’t even included Jaime Garcia, who is, once again, battling shoulder woes…but he could be ready to pitch again soon. The Cardinals are a tremendous example of a team that can compete while consistently drafting in the last half of each round, while not having an unreasonable payroll number. They should be envied by fans and replicated by other organizations.
National League West
1st: Los Angeles Dodgers
2nd: San Francisco Giants
3rd: Arizona Diamondbacks
4th: Colorado Rockies
5th: San Diego Padres
The Padres are a solid team with a lot of good talent, but the NL West is quite competitive, and the Padres home park may continue to be their own worst enemy. They’ll have an advantage for their pitchers, but they just don’t have enough offensive talent to overcome Petco’s offensive squashing ways. Chase Headley quickly returned to form in 2013 after a breakout 2012 and Carlos Quentin, once again, showed that he is productive and very, very fragile. The Friars will have full seasons out of Yonder Alonso and Everth Cabrera, with some power production from young second baseman Jedd Gyorko, but Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross will struggle to win games due to the rest of the talent, or lack thereof, around them. The Rockies may finally have an appropriate way to attack their own offensive environment in Coor’s field, finding and developing pitchers who can pound the bottom half of the strike zone, drafting and developing pitchers like Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler in the minor league system, but they’re still a year or two away from overcoming the pitching talent that they currently are rostering at the major league level. Still, they’ll win games thanks to Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Wilin Rosario, and Nolan Arenado powering home runs. The Diamondbacks continue to deal away tremendous young talent to compete at the major league level, acquiring Mark Trumbo from the Angels this winter. Trumbo will add great power to a lineup already featuring NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, and with Martin Prado and Miguel Montero in the lineup, the D’backs should score plenty of runs. The rotation lost Patrick Corbin to Tommy John surgery, but they had Randall Delgado out of options to step into the rotation, with Archie Bradley near-ready in Triple-A. Wade Miley, Bronson Arroyo, and Trevor Cahill should provide solid innings, while Brandon McCarthy could be the wild card in the teams success due to his dominance when healthy, though he can’t always be counted on. The bullpen in Arizona is dynamite, featuring Addison Reed at closer, with J.J. Putz, Oliver Perez, and David Hernandez as setup men. The Giants have pitching for days, but still have trouble finding offense. Pablo Sandoval will be a free agent after this season and utilized that motivation to finally show up to spring training in shape. Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence should continue to produce, while they are hoping that Mike Morse can return to his powerful 2012 form rather than whatever it was that showed up last season. Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain could be Cy Young candidates, while the Giants will hope that Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum can return to their former Cy Young candidacy days. The Dodgers…do they ever have a loaded roster! All-Stars all over the field: Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp will lead the club offensively, while manager Don Mattingly finds a creative way to rotate four very good outfielders between three spots, with a fifth, Joc Pederson, nearly ready to produce when called up from the minors. The rotation is very deep and the bullpen is the deepest in baseball. Clayton Kershaw needs no explanation, and Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, and Paul Maholm should be very productive in a forgiving home ballpark with an electric offense supporting them. Five pitchers with closing experience in the bullpen make it nearly a guarantee for success. A payroll with no end makes the Dodgers capable of adding pieces if a need were to arise, as well.
National League Wild Cards
Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds
World Series Prediction
Washington Nationals over the Detroit Tigers in six games
He’ll finally do enough to get the votes that went to Miguel Cabrera the last two years. He has easily been the best all-around player in the game since the start of the 2012 season. At just 22, it’s scary to think of what he will become in his prime if he, fingers crossed, stays healthy.
There’s just something about a guy coming off of any injury plagued season who didn’t live up to expectations that makes me want to go with him here. He’s not Joey Votto, Bryce Harper, or Andrew McCutchen, but Heyward will be doing a lot of the things that made Shin-Soo Choo so valuable for the Reds in 2013: getting on base as the leadoff hitter, hitting for power, and stealing bases. I could see Heyward posting a 30/30 season out of the leadoff spot in Atlanta while driving in close to 90 runs and scoring over 100. The numbers will add up to make him one of the top players in baseball, leading Atlanta to an NL playoff matchup with the Nationals.
Yu Darvish will be your trendy pick because of all of those strikeouts, but Verlander has shown that he still has something left, striking out nearly 11 per nine over his final six starts before striking out over 12 per nine over his three playoff starts. With negotiations with Max Scherzer being completely thrown out, Verlander is the man in Detroit, and he is going to show why once again.
Kershaw, like Darvish, would be the easy pick. I picked Bumgarner last year, and one of these years, I’m going to look smart for sticking with him. Bumgarner’s hits per nine (6.5) was the lowest of his career last year, and that number continues to fall each season, while his strikeout rate continues to increase, while he reached 8.9 in 2013. He’s just 24 and he has the home ballpark and the stuff to continue to improve his already impressive numbers.
Bogaerts showed that he is advanced beyond his years in the playoffs last season, helping Boston win another World Series with his impressive play. He hasn’t shown the power yet, but Bogaerts could be a 25 to 30 home run hitter in coming seasons, and his youth is a welcome addition to the aging Red Sox roster.
Vince Coleman once stole 100 bases with a .581 OPS. If Billy Hamilton is on base enough to steal 100 bases, he’s going to score enough runs to create value for himself and the Cincinnati Reds. I’ve seen him run in person and it doesn’t seem real. He’ll have more infield hits than some teams will combine for. Even if he isn’t successful, Hamilton doesn’t have any true competition for at-bats beyond Chris Heisey (who likely can’t handle center field) and Roger Bernadina (who hasn’t been able to handle a job). He’ll maintain the job and be quite productive due to his speed, but if he ever gets a leg injury and loses that tool, he has no role and no business in baseball.
Random Bold Predictions
1. Bryce Harper will hit more home runs than Miguel Cabrera.
4. Grant Balfour will have more saves than whoever closes for Baltimore, and the Orioles will look even more ridiculous for backing out of the contract that they signed with him than they already do.
5. Drew Smyly will win more games in Detroit than Doug Fister wins in Washington.
6. B.J. Upton will hit over .260 and will hit at least 15 home runs while stealing 25 or more bases.
7. Devin Mesoraco will provide more value offensively than Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina provide offensively AND defensively in Tampa…which will show just how bad Dusty Baker messed with the former top prospect in Cincinnati by not playing him daily.
8. Hector Santiago will win 14 or more games to solidify an iffy Angels rotation.
9. Yoenis Cespedes will post an OPS over .920 and will be a top 5 AL MVP candidate at seasons end.
This has nothing to do with my Top 100 list, but you will find some familiar names and others that will be players to keep an eye on, especially if they’re on your favorite team or if you’re in a keeper fantasy baseball league.
Spring statistics don’t really mean much to anyone, that is, of course, unless those numbers are being used to determine a position battle. I like to see young players who are getting long looks and veterans coming off of injuries prove their health and worth by admiring their feasting on lesser competition. While there are many out there that think that spring training is a waste of time and that the statistics don’t mean anything, they do mean a little something – especially to these players. (Statistics as of 3/20/2014)
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
.396/.412/.667, 19 H, 7 2B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB, 5:2 K:BB in 48 AB
Why Spring Matters for Castellanos: The rookie third baseman is going to need to pick up some of the offensive production that was lost when the Tigers traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for a non-Arlington-version of Ian Kinsler. Kinsler has a career .242/.312/.399 line away from the spacious confines of the Ballpark at Arlington and a .304/.387/.511 line at home. Comerica Park is NOT Globe Life Park in Arlington, and with the injury to Jose Iglesias (who may or may not be offensively capable), the Tigers need more players to step up to allow Miguel Cabrera to be an MVP candidate again in 2014. Castellanos doesn’t have the prospect shine of Byron Buxton or Xander Bogaerts, but he is going to hit. He always has. The fact that he is hitting while re-adjusting to playing third base, having been switched to the outfield just two years ago from the hot corner, is a positive sign. Additionally, he just turned 22 at the beginning of March. Castellanos may never hit 30 home runs and he may struggle to hit .300 due to contact and discipline questions, but if the Tigers are going to maintain solid offensive production, they’ll need this young man to hit the way that he has this spring. There may be some growing pains, but this production is very encouraging.
Dustin Ackley, OF, Seattle Mariners
.457/.490/.696, 21 H, 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 6:3 K:BB in 46 AB
Why Spring Matters for Ackley: After hitting .304/.374/.435 in the second half of 2013 (208 plate appearances), Ackley deserved a long look this spring. When the Mariners signed Robinson Cano and Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison, it was worrisome that the M’s could have squeezed their former top pick the way that they have their current middle infielders with the Cano signing. An already crowded, though hideous, outfield could still be impacted if Morrison and Hart man the corners with Justin Smoak at first, but the hope for all baseball enthusiasts is that Ackley gets 500 at-bats while playing a single position, something that the former top prospect hasn’t had an opportunity to accomplish in his very shifty career. The month of March has been very kind to Ackley and he should be locked into an everyday role, especially with Franklin Gutierrez out for the year (not shocking) and Michael Saunders floundering last season so badly. His gap power and on-base skills will make him a surprisingly valuable asset in the Mariners push towards contention in 2014.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals
.450/.521/.875, 5 2B, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB, 6:6 K:BB in 40 AB
Why Spring Matters for Moustakas: Moustakas’ career appeared nearly dead when the Royals signed a perfect platoon partner, Danny Valencia, to pair up with the former top prospect. Then, Moustakas went and played winter ball and worked on his swing…and now this. Maybe it was the fire under the sphincter that Moose needed to get his career on track, maybe the alterations were enough, or maybe he’s a late bloomer like the man that he replaced at the hot corner, Alex Gordon. Gordon was nearly out of the league until a breakout in 2011 at the age of 27, but Moustakas, 25, doesn’t deserve to be given up on just yet, either. Perhaps Moustakas has found the swing that led to 36 home runs and a .999 OPS at the age of 21 in 2010. He may still have some issues against the toughest of left-handed pitchers, but this could be the year.
Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds
.325/.413/.450, 13 H, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 9 SB, 12 R, 6:6 K:BB in 40 AB
Why Spring Matters for Hamilton: He’ll never replace Shin-Soo Choo and his ability to get on base, but when Hamilton gets on base, he’s nearly a lock to score. I am not sure how he managed to hit a home run, as the Reds should be instituting push-ups like Willie Mayes Hayes from the great American classic Major League. Hamilton’s wheels will make him a game-changing talent until an injury is to arise. It is highly unlikely that he’ll hit at this rate in 2014, but even a .250/.310/.325 line would afford him enough opportunities on the base paths to score close to 100 runs while stealing 50 or more bases. It may not seem mathematically realistic, but you need to see Billy run in person to gain an understanding of his actual speed. The walks and contact rate is encouraging, and while Great American Ballpark doesn’t have the thin air of the desert, it is still a launching pad – Hamilton just needs to keep the ball on the ground to better utilize his legs and to avoid the push-ups.
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants
0.00 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 17 IP, 10 H, 16:2 K:BB
Why Spring Matters for Bumgarner: Spring doesn’t really matter much for Bumgarner, I just hope that people see this and realize that he is capable of winning the 2014 National League Cy Young award. The 2014 season is his age-24 season and he already has incredible numbers. His hits per nine fell to a career low in 2013 (6.5) and his strikeouts per nine were a career high (8.9). The dominance in his 17 spring innings will be what you’ll see in 2014. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stole the award from Clayton Kershaw. There weren’t eight pitchers in the NL better than him, regardless of the Cy Young voting.
Hector Santiago, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
2.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16.1 IP, 11 H, 19:6 K:BB
Why Spring Matters for Santiago: Thanks to Joe Blanton being terrible and the Angels minor league system being even worse, Santiago was a lock for the rotation when he was acquired from the White Sox in the Mark Trumbo deal. Santiago, though, is a very interesting pitcher in 2014. He has some friendly ballparks in the American League West and he has the stuff to post nearly a strikeout per inning. Add in an impressive offense and Santiago could be one of the more surprising No.4 starters in baseball. He has shown the strikeout stuff and how hard he is to hit this spring, and if he can cool the walks a bit, which have always been an issue for him, the 26-year-old will continue to be effective for the Halos.
Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
1.76 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 15.1 IP, 8 H, 9:3 K:BB
Why Spring Matters for Martinez: The Cardinals just aren’t fair. Joe Kelly, who only went 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA over 15 starts in 2013, is battling one of the club’s former top prospects for the No.5 spot in the Cards’ rotation. Nicknamed “Little Pedro” due to his stature and stuff being similar to future Hall of Fame right-hander Pedro Martinez, this 22-year-old Dominican future star has shown just how unhittable he is when he can manage to control his impressive arsenal. Many will wonder if his best long-term role will be the bullpen due to injury risks and how his stuff plays up in short bursts, but Martinez is much more valuable over 200 innings, and the Cardinals continue to have the depth to plug him into the rotation and reap the benefits of their minor league system. Martinez won’t look like Michael Wacha did down the stretch last season, but that is because he’ll be making a name for himself on his own in 2014.