MLB Pre-Season Preview and Power Rankings 15-11 (Dark Horse Teams)

15.Baltimore Orioles

Preview- The Orioles have made the playoffs in two of the last three years, but have fallen in the division round both times. Their lineup has been the reason they have had success. They have finished in the top 10 in runs scored the last two years. That has a lot to do with the emergence of Adam Jones, who in the last three years, has been a top 10 outfielder, showing 30+ homerun power with a BA around .290. Besides Jones, the O’s have 1B Chris Davis, C Matt Wieters, 3B Manny Machado, SS JJ Hardy, OF Alenjandro De Aza, and DH Steve Pearce. They lost OF Nelson Cruz in the off season, but it is reasonable to expect a bounce back year from Chris Davis, which would make up for the loss of Cruz. Machado has had his own issues the last couple of years, but is young, and very talented. If he could get his head together, he could still become a top 3B in the league. After that, both Pearce and De Aza really had nice seasons for the O’s last year, with De Aza coming over at the trade deadline and putting together a great second half.

The concern for this team is going to be pitching. They don’t have a bad pitching rotation, in fact, they finished top 10 in team ERA last year. The issue is the lack of an ace. When they get to the playoffs, they don’t have that go to guy to match up against the other team, and it has cost them. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yen Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez are all decent pitchers, but if they are matched up against an ace like David Price, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, or Corey Kluber in the post season, whom are you going to take to pitch better? The O’s are a talented team, and should once again push for a playoff spot, but if they want to win, they need an ace.

Player to Watch- SP Kevin Gausman – Luckily, they may have that ace. Kevin Gausman was very good for them in his 20 starts last year, and has the potential to be even better. He could be the true, top of the rotation pitcher, they need to win a playoff series.

  1. San Diego Padres

Preview- The Padres surprised everyone this season by wheeling and dealing to bring in a lot of talent to their team. They made a deal with the Dodgers to bring in OF Matt kemp. Switched a couple prospects to the Braves to acquire OF Justin Upton. They got OF Wil Myers back from the Rays in a three team 11 player deal, and signed James Shields in free agency. All of the moves are upgrades on paper, but there is definitely concern of whether these players will fit in with the Padres. Wil Myers struggled to hit last year in Tropicana Field last year. The Trop is deep to center, but still ranks around the middle of ball parks as far as the home run factor. Now he moves to probably the toughest ball park to hit home runs in, PETCO Park. It’s the same issue with Justin Upton, though the move from Turner Field to PETCO isn’t quite as big of a difference. Matt Kemp is in the same boat as Upton, as his former ballpark, Dodger Stadium, was already a tough hitter’s park, but the concern for him is always health. Other hitters on this team include 2B Jedd Gyorko and C Derick Norris. The lineup has talent, but it will be tough for a team of power hitters like they have to find success in this ballpark, and they may have been better off going after hitters who can play small ball

James Shields on the other hand, should have no trouble fitting in. In a ballpark where even a mediocre pitcher can look good, a pitcher like Shields should have no trouble getting outs. The rest of their rotation isn’t bad either. Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, and Tyson Ross are all good pitchers, with the wildcard being Brandon Morrow. The Padres should at least push for a playoff spot, but despite the additions, they still have some concerns.

Player to Watch- OF Wil Myers- The former rookie of the year has yet to find his power stroke, and PETCO won’t help that. He has the raw power to hit here though, he just needs to tap into it.

  1. Chicago Cubs

Preview- The Cubs may have the youngest lineup with the most potential in baseball. With hitters like 3B Kris Bryant, OF Jorge Soler, 2B Javier Baez, SS Starlin Castro, 1B Anthony Rizzo, and eventually SS Addison Russell, if they can find the space for him. The future is very bright for the Cubs.  They also have a handful of talented veterans in OF Chris Coghlan, OF Dexter Fowler, and C Miguel Montero. Even after the group of prospects above, their farm system is still very good, with several other prospects having a chance to be good players in the MLB when they ae promoted.

Their pitching is also good, though could use some improvement. They signed Jon Lester in the offseason, which gives them an elite pitcher at the top of their rotation. After that, they have a handful of successful, though underwhelming, pitchers in Jake Arietta, Jason Hammel, and Kyle Hendricks. Three pitchers who are good, especially for middle of the rotation pitchers, but are not going to overpower opposing hitters. Their fifth pitcher though is Travis Wood, who had an ERA over 5 last year. That is the one place on this team they can stand to upgrade. With a stocked farm system, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Cubs traded for a starting pitcher at mid-season, Maybe Cole Hamels. If not, they may wait until the offseason, and go after a free agent like Jordan Zimmerman. They also secretly have a very good bullpen. As a unit, the bullpen’s ERA was 3.61, good for 15th in the majors. The strength of the bullpen is the back end though, where Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and Neil Ramirez all had an ERA under 2.5. Remember, the Royals got to the World Series with a lot of help from their talented, young, bullpen.

Player to Watch- Everyone- Seriously, pick a name and they are a candidate for a breakout year. Theo Epstein has turned this team around, and Cubs fans should be very excited. It might not be this year, but with a little luck, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they made a push this year.

  1. Miami Marlins

Preview– The Marlins made a lot of moves in the off season, but I am not as high on them as some other people are. Are they a good team? Yes, they are, but not World Series contenders like some analysts like to predict. A lot of their off season acquisitions are being over rated by the media. Dee Gordon might be fast, but he has a terrible approach for a leadoff hitter. Someone with his speed should be getting better than a .320 OBP, and should be making more contact, not striking out over 100 times. He will help, but his talents are being exaggerated after a fluky first half where he hit over .300. SP Mat Latos also came to Miami, and while he is talented, he has had an abundance of health concerns the last year and a half, and it has affected his ability. After missing about two months last year, he came back with his velocity down over 2 mph, and his strikeout rate fell from 8.4 in the prior years to just 6.5. While you could say that was just him being rusty and shaking off the injury, his injury issues carried into the offseason as well. While he should be a good pitcher still, there is no reason to think he will magically get better and be an ace again. People also talk about the acquisition of SP Dan Haren as if it is something special, but his ERA over the past three seasons is around 4.3, so he isn’t much more than a fifth starter.

So why do I have them at 12 if I don’t like their off season? Because the rest of their team was already good. OF Giancarlo Stanton has more power than anyone in the majors. He can hit over 40 homeruns even playing in a spacious ball park. They also have OF Christian Yelich, who is a star in the making. Jose Fernandez is an ace, but he will miss some time recovering from Tommy Johns still. Henderson Alvarez is a decent pitcher as well, though he isn’t the type to overpower hitters. Their time may come, but let’s not jump the gun on this team.

Player to Watch- OF Marcell Ozuna- Has shown the power, but not the consistency. With a deeper lineup, he should get a chance to break out this year, and really show his talent.

  1. Chicago White Sox

Preview- While everyone is talking about the Marlins and Cubs as the dark horse team this year, people are overlooking the team on the South side of Chicago. Maybe the Cubs have a brighter future than the Sox, but the White Sox are more ready to win right now.

Starting with the reigning Rookie of the Year, Jose Abreu is potentially the best first basemen in baseball right now, and seems to be improving. Scouts once thought he would merely be a power hitter, he proved to be a good, overall hitter, showing both power and the ability to hit for average. They also have Alexei Ramirez, who is one of the best hitting shortstops in the league. They have OF Melky Cabrera, who continues to be a talented all around hitter even though he has been on five different teams in the past six years. They added Adam LaRoche as well, who should be able to put together a very good year in the hitter friendly confines of US Cellular Field. Their pitching is good as well. Chris Sale is a top 10 pitcher in the league, and while there was some injury concerns coming into spring training, he seems to be in mid-season form. The addition of Jeff Samardzija gives them a second ace at the top of their rotation. After them, they have another solid pitcher in Jose Quintana, who posted a 3.32 ERA, with over 170 K’s. The back end of their rotation leaves something to be desired though. John Danks and Hector Noesi both posted ERA’s over 4.5 last year. Noesi still has a chance to improve as a pitcher, but what they got last year from Danks will probably be what they get this year. Their bullpen is good though, with only one of their bullpen arms posting an ERA over 3 last year. The addition of David Robertson as closer will be a huge boost. They are the dark horse team that no one is talking about.

Player to Watch- OF Adam Eaton- We know how good Abreu is, but another up and coming player on the Sox, is Eaton. He can be a great leadoff hitter if he can stay healthy, that’s a big if though. He has missed a lot of time in his short career.

AL Rookie of The Year Race is Almost Too Close To Call

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Last year, there weren’t many good options for AL Rookie of The Year. Wil Myers had a decent rookie year, and was really the only player who stood out at all. This year is a completely different story. Two rookies have not only put themselves in prime position to win the award, but have been two of the best players in baseball two this point. Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka have taken the league by storm and had two of the best rookie years in recent memory.

Masahiro Tanaka’s success comes to no surprise. He was the big target of this year’s free agent market, coming in from Japan on an amazing winning streak, he hadn’t lost a game in Japan in almost a year in a half. Some expected him to have a little bit of an adjustment period, but with how dirty his pitches were in Japan, most agreed he was going to make it in the MLB. Not only has he proved he deserves to be in the MLB, but he has put himself in a position to come away with the CY Young award. Only Fernando Venezuela has ever won both the CY Young and ROY awards in one year, he accomplished that feat in 1981. Tanaka currently boasts a 2.11 ERA, 119 K’s, and a 11-2 record.

Tanaka’s competition for ROY is 1B Jose Abreu, another foreign prospect, this time from Cuba. Abreu was not as well known coming over, and his signing with the White Sox did not make as much noise as Tanaka’s with the Yankees. Still those who did know about Abreu knew the type of power he had. Few expected him to burst onto the scenes as he has so far though, already hitting 22 homeruns in late June despite a 15 day DL-stint. He is on track to become only the second rookie to hit 40 homeruns, Mark McGwire hit 49 in his rookie year with the A’s. Abreu also has 60 RBI’s and a .274 avg. While his AVG may keep him from winning MVP in his rookie year, he definitely has a chance at winning ROY.

It will be tough to judge who deserves the award if both players keep up their current level of play. Abreu has a legit chance at winning the HR Title, and probably would be winning it now if he never went on the DL. Tanaka has already established himself as the best pitcher on the Yankees, and as said, he may come away with the CY Young as well. It’s not often that you see rookies come in and have success this early, Mike Trout being the only case otherwise in recent memory. Usually the ROY was good for a rookie, but these two are already elite players. Then again, these are not your typical rookies. Abreu and Tanaka are 27 and 25, and have already competed at high levels. They both played in the World Baseball Classic, and both showed their ability. Abreu hit 3 HR’s in 6 games, while Tanaka has an ERA under 2.5. The Show was never going to be too big for them.

As of now, Abreu probably is the favorite to win. Hitter play every day, and often get preference in awards like this. If his performance falls even a little though Tanaka will swoop, right in and take the award for himself. They will make teams for confident in the future when signing foreign prospects to big deals.

Players to Target in Keeper Leagues

C-Salvador Perez- Kansas City Royals

Last year Perez was a favorite sleeper pick, and it just didn’t work out. He had an okay season, but not the type of season people

expected. He started the season in a major slump, discouraging many fantasy owners. He did manage to get his average up close to

.300 by the end of the season, but he was predicted by most to hit over .300. His strong finish is a great sign that he is finally settling into the majors and should be the hitting machine he was in the minors.

Perez is going at around 150 in most drafts, which is a fair place for him to go. Based on his second half, he should at least hit over .300 with 15 homeruns. He may even do even better and sneak close to 20 homeruns.

1B- Jose Abreu – Chicago White Sox

People are shying away from Aberu because of his lack of MLB Experience. That critique is fair, but looking at the past few Cuban players to come to the MLB, there doesn’t seem to be much of a learning Curve. Former Cuban stars OF Yoenis Cespedes, OF Yasiel Puig, and RP Aroldis Chapman all hit the ground running and have already established themselves in the MLB. There is no reason to believe there will be a learning curve for Abreu at this point

Abreu showed remarkable power while in Cuba. Between 2011 and 2012, Abreu hit .394 / .542/ .837 with 75 walks, 35 home runs, 71 runs and 99 RBI in only 87 games. While playing in the World Baseball Classic, he hit three homeruns including a Grand Slam in 25 games. He showed in Cuba the ability to use the entire field his BA may suffer this year, but he should be able to produce good power in his first year. He is going late in drafts, and could be a steal late in the draft. He has 30 homerun potential, especially considering his home ball park.

2B- Jurickson Profar – Texas Rangers

Profar’s first taste of the pros left a lot to be desired, but he is still only a year removed from being one of the most highly touted prospects in baseball. He only managed to hit .234, without the power or speed numbers to pad it. Part of the problem was he wasn’t getting consistent playing time, and bounced from position to position due to the crowded Rangers infield.

One thing in Profar’s favor this offseason though is the trade of Ian Kinsler, which seals Profar’s role as the starting second basemen. He will have chance to play every day, and play in the same position. His plate discipline, power, and a great ability to make contact, make him a dangerous player. His upside his huge, and it would be smart to get him now for a keeper league before he becomes overpriced in future drafts.

SS- Jonathan Villar- Houston Astros

Every time a SS has a good season, ESPN loves to blow them up and rank them way too high to actually draft. Last year Jean Segura and Everth Cabrera were both steals at the end of the draft, but now they are both being drafted in the top 100 picks, which is poor value. SS is such a shallow position that people often reach for the few established players there are at the position. You often either have to take someone like Elvis Andrus excessively early, for what they actually give you, or are stuck with a scrub in your fantasy lineup.

Villar presents a chance to get a SS just like Segura, Andrus, or Cabrera late. Instead of taking the consistently mediocre Asdrubal Cabrera late, take Villar, whose stat line should look very similar to the top SS late. He has great speed, but that is about it. If your league measures OBP instead of AVG he is even better. He won’t hit many homeruns, but few Shortstops do. He will steal around 40 bases though. It is the same thing you are getting with Segura, Cabrera, and Andrus. Only difference is you are getting him almost 10 rounds later.

3B- Xander Bogaerts- Boston Red Sox

Bogaerts was one of the top prospects last year, but just didn’t have a place on the team to play. His natural position, SS, was

blocked by Stephen Drew, and 3B was blocked by Will Middlebrooks. Even when Middlebrooks was demoted, the Red Sox chose to instead give Jose Iglesias as chance instead of Bogaerts. Bogaerts finally got a chance in August though as a Utility player, and worked his way into the starting lineup by the end of the year. Now with Drew gone, Bogaerts will get a chance to slide back over to SS and play every day. This will eventually give him the added bonus of SS eligibility.

Bogaerts has been a favorite of scouts for a while. He has the potential to be a four category contributor, with only steals being the position he won’t contribute in. He has impressive power, with the ability to hit for even more power than he did in the minors. He should be a must target in Keeper leagues, and even re-draft leagues.

OF-Adam Eaton- Chicago Whitesox

Adam Eaton has the potential to hit 10 homeruns with 30 steals if he can stay healthy. A sleeper going into last year, injuries derailed his first season with the Diamondbacks, and he would later be sent to the Whitesox in a three way trade that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona. A fresh start could be great for Eaton.

Eaton made a name for himself in the minors for a great ability to get on base, OBP of .450 in the minors. That, combined with good speed, has allowed him to be a force on the base paths. For a guy being drafted around pick 210, Eaton could be a great value add as a final outfielder.

SP- Zack Wheeler- NY Mets

The other young Mets pitcher who broke out last year, Wheeler was over shadowed by the stunning performance of Matt Harvey. Wheeler wasn’t as good as Harvey was, but he still showed he is more than capable of being a great pitcher at this level. His stuff is nasty, and while he could definitely improve his control, he has the potential to be almost as good Harvey.

Now, as he enters his second MLB season, he has a chance to really step up. His ERA may not be as good as Harvey’s was before his unfortunate injury, but he should be the same strikeout machine. Plus, with a much improved Met’s team, he has a chance to get more wins than he did last year.

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