MLB Preseason Preview and Power Rankings (5-1)

5.Boston Red Sox

Preview- The Red Sox were among the free agent winners this off season. They signed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, and swapped Yoenis Cespedes out of a crowed outfield to bring back SP Rick Porcello. The Porcello move was a good one, they bring back a talented, 26 year old pitcher, and only lose an outfielder who struggled for them, and they didn’t have room for anyway. As for the Sandoval and Ramirez signings, they are being overblown. Sandoval is not that good of a hitter in the regular season, and Ramirez in left field is going to be an adventure.

The reason they are rated this high is the team around those players. Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Xander Bogaerts, and eventually Rusney Castillo, will make for a very good line up. They may be overpaying Ramirez and Sandoval, but they have the money to bite that bullet. Bogaerts struggled his rookie year, but has been working hard with a hitting instructor, and seems poised to put together a breakout year. Ortiz keeps hitting, despite his age, and has yet to show any signs of regression.

What may hurt them, is their rotation. Porcello is a good pitcher, but after him, there is only question marks. Clay Bucholz and Justin Masterson have shown potential in their careers, but have been mediocre the last couple of years. They really need an elite pitcher to put at the top of the rotation. They are tentative to give a prospect from their deep farm system in order to bring one back, but they may eventually cave in. For now, their lineup alone makes them a top 5 team.

Player to Watch- OF Mookie Betts- While all eyes have been on Kris Bryant this spring, there is a different player who has been flying under the radar. Mookie Betts is a star in the making, and is ready to become a top outfielder in the game. He will lead off this year for the Red Sox, and is a candidate to hit over .300 and steal 40 bases.

  1. Los Angeles Angels

Preview- When people think of the Angels, they think of Mike Trout. Trout is the best player in the league, and probably the new face of the MLB after Derek Jeter retired. He is the favorite to repeat as AL MVP, but what about the rest of the team?

This team led the majors in wins last year, with 98. They only had one major loss in the offseason, and that was 2B Howie Kendrick. They shipped him up the freeway to the Dodgers in exchange for SP Andrew Heaney. They downgraded at second base, where Johnny Giavotella will start this year, but get a much needed boost to their pitching rotation. They also made some minor signings to boost their bullpen depth, and brought in OF Matt Joyce for outfield depth.

The rest of their team remains mostly the same. Kole Calhoun, Albert Pujols, Erik Ayabar, CJ Cron, Chris Ianetta, the Angels are getting above average production from almost every position except for second base. The lineup doesn’t have the name power some of the other top five teams have, but it will be just as productive.

The concern will be their pitching rotation. First, there is Jered Weaver, who is talented, but has had issues with a loss in velocity the last couple of years. Garret Richards is coming off an injury, and it’s no guarantee he will be able to shake the rust off this year. CJ Wilson has been marred in a decline over the past couple years as well. How good this rotation may come down to the performances of young pitchers Andrew Heaney and Matt Shoemaker. The Angels aren’t the best team on paper, but they are a well-constructed team, and should once again be at the top of the standings.

Player to Watch- SP Matt Shoemaker- Shoemaker was the runner up in the AL Rookie of the Year race, and if he can continue to develop could be the key to the Angels taking the next step.

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Washington Nationals

Preview- Everyone’s favorite team to win it all, they have more holes than most like to talk about. They are a very good team, but they aren’t as good overall as the two teams ranked above them on this list.

To give credit where it is due, their pitching rotation is fantastic. With Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmerman, and Doug Fister as their starting pitchers, they are an almost lock to make the postseason. The issue will be whether they score runs or not.

Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon are legitimately good hitters, but after them, the lineup is mediocre. There is no reason to believe that Ryan Zimmerman will make a comeback. He is injury prone, and when he is on the field, he isn’t even that good anymore. Bryce Harper is young, but this will mark three straight years that everyone thinks will be a breakout year, and it hasn’t happened yet. Jayson Werth, Denard Span, and Dan Uggla round out a lineup that is mostly underwhelming. To make it worse, Rendon is dealing with various injury issues entering the season, so his status for now is up in the air.

They are still going to be a good team, but people are getting ahead of themselves in saying they are the favorites to win it all. They have a chance to win, but as a Phillies fan, I remember what happened to the Phillies when they had an all-star rotation but an underwhelming lineup. If they want to win, they are going to need that breakout from Harper now, because their lineup isn’t good enough without it.

Player to Watch- OF Michael Taylor- Span will miss a chunk of April to start out the season, giving Taylor a chance to play. He is a promising prospect, and with a good April, can steal Spans spot permanently, and make it a little more likely they win it all this year.

2. St Louis Cardinals

Preview- The Cardinals are the most consistent team in baseball. While every other team is like a roller coaster and has its ups and downs, the Cardinals are a constant. They may not always be among the best teams in the league, but they are always at least there in the playoffs. This year they have as good a chance as anyone to win it all.

The lineup is talented from top to bottom. Matt Adams will finally get consistent playing time, and Kolten Wong will get a full year. Jason Heyward has struggles his last two years, but maybe the change of scenery will get him back on track. Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, and Matt Holiday round out a lineup that is good almost from top to bottom.

Their rotation may be even better. Adam Wainwright is as good as almost any pitcher. After him, they have two very promising young pitchers in Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha. The rotation is rounded out by John Lackey and Lance Lynn, who are both mid 3 era pitchers. Their rotation may not be as good as the Nationals, but barring an injury, they should be among the best in the league still.

Few teams have been as successful as the Cardinals have the last decade. They not only make the playoffs every year, but also have been able to have success in the playoffs, unlike the Nationals and Dodgers, who they are ranked in between. With a top 10 pitching rotation, and a top 10 lineup, they will be amongst the best teams in the league, with the track record to back it up.

Player to Watch- 2B Kolten Wong- Wong was unimpressive in year one, but finished strong in the second half, hitting 11 homeruns. Expect him to raise his average this year. Wong hit over .300 in the minors, and should be expected to do the same in the majors. He also has decent power and speed, with his ceiling being a 20-20 type of hitter.

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Preview- The Dodgers are the most talented team on paper, but they were the most talented team last year as well, and all it got them was a first round exit. It’s hard to put them anywhere other than at number one with how much talent they have, but there is going to be that concern of what they will do when they get to the playoffs again.

With all the moves, they made in the off season, trading for Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins, signing Brandon McCarthy, and brining in Cuban prospect Hector Olivera, their best move was trading Matt Kemp. Not because they brought back a promising catcher in Yasmani Grandal, but because it opened up a spot for Joc Pederson on the roster.

The Olivera signing actually was a head scratcher. Did it allow them to bring in a promising player? Yes, but it blocked another promising player from having a space on the roster, Alex Guerrero. Guerrero, another Cuban prospect, was looking very promising, and in line to play third base before the Olivera signing. Now his spot on the team in up in the air. The infield and outfield were already packed, and third was really the only chance he had at playing.

The pitching rotation is probably the second best behind the nationals. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, there aren’t very many rotations better than that. Their lineup is even better on paper. Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Pederson, Carl Crawford, and Yasiel Puig make for an imposing line up.

The problem is, just because you throw a bunch of all stars together it doesn’t mean they will be the best team. It didn’t work for the Bobby Valentine Red Sox, didn’t work for the Marlins a couple years ago, so there is no guarantee it will work for the Dodgers.

Player to Watch- OF Joc Pederson- Pederson has the potential to hit 20-20 in his first year, and to maybe even be a 30-30 player. His potential is sky high, and having a player like Pederson up in the majors is going to be great for the game as a whole.

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.

Braves Agree to New Deals With Heyward and Freeman

Freddie Freeman will be donning the Braves Jersey for at least eight more years. (Photo Credit NBC sports)

Earlier, when I made my Braves Offseason article, I torched the Braves for their inactivity and past poor decision making. They made up for that today though by coming to new deals with their two youngest and most talented players. 1B Freddie Freeman, and OF Jayson Heyward will both be sticking around in Atlanta for a few more years.

Freeman agreed to what is reported by ESPN to be an eight-year, $125 million deal. Braves also reached terms with Heyward on a much smaller two-year, $13.3 million deal. Both players are only 24, and have both reached a point where they are considered some of the best players in the league.

Heyward has shown to struggle a little every now and then, which is why his deal wasn’t as substantial as Freeman’s. On the other hand, Freeman has already proven himself, and continues to improve. Extending Freeman through his prime, he is under contract until he is 32, for a fairly reasonable price is a brilliant move. It bares comparison to when the Cardinals did the same thing with 1B Albert Pujols, signing him to a big deal while in his prime, and letting him walk at the end of it.

Braves are in a tough spot, losing C Brian McCann and SP Tim Hudson, but these deals mean they have some time to bounce back. Unfortunately for them they also gave up a lot to bring the Upton brothers in last year, neither of which has panned out. B.J. and Justin Upton are going to hurt the Braves for a while, but at least they can make up for by having quality players like Freeman and Heyward around on a bargain.

Braves grade is upgraded to a C because of this. They are still competitors, but they will not be as good as last year. They are way to streaky of a team, and lost some of their consistency in Mcann and Hudson. It is also reasonable to predict a drop in production from 3B Chris Johnson, who benefited from an unsurd babip of over .400 last year. They will be good, but not as good as the Nationals.