Baseball season has started. The Dodgers have a jumpstart on the NL West that could be insurmountable. But, for the other 28 teams in the league, we’re getting in those last reps and roster trimmings before the big day. For traditionalists like myself, Opening Day will always be Monday. Anything less is uncivilized.
To get the season underway, while the Phillies are still in a virtual tie for 1st place, I thought I’d do a Sweet 16 for the baseball season. A melding of what would have been about 20 posts back in the Glory Days:
Bryce Harper Region: Phenom Obsessions…
Baseball is brutal on prospects. Back in the 90s when I was an unofficial scout in the Eastern League I saw a bunch of guys who looked like they were going to be great MLB players. I had Todd Walker pegged for Chase Utley’s offensive career about 8 years before anyone had ever heard of Chase. Guy hit .340 in AAA. Ranked the 7th best prospect in baseball. Ended up with a “nice” career, but never hit more than 17 homers in the majors. Anyway, here are four guys to save your fantasy season in the middle of the summer:
1. Archie Bradley–SP, Arizona Diamondbacks. With Patrick Corbin out for the year the back of the Diamondbacks’ rotation is a bit up in the air. Bradley isn’t on the Major League roster yet, so he’s not the short-term solution, but if the rotation is lacking come summer, Bradley could provide a big boost ala Gerrit Cole to the Pirates in 2013. A traditional right-handed power arm without the questions and quirks of Trevor Bauer.
2. George Springer–OF, Houston Astros. Shouldn’t the Astros have some prospects by now? After years of trading away players and winning 58 games? The answer is yes! They do have some. Springer should be the first to arrive, a beast who almost went 40/40 in the minors last year. Also watch out for top pick from 2013, Mark Appel. Should quickly move into Houston’s rotation once he’s fully healthy and gets a bit of seasoning.
3. Gregory Polanco (no relation to Placido)–OF, Pittsburgh Pirates. Let’s keep this rolling, Pittsburgh. They’ll have a lot to live up to after last season and if they find themselves struggling to score runs again, a mid-season promotion of Polanco could provide a needed spark. He’s the RF of the future, it’s just a question of when he arrives.
4. Noah Syndergaard–SP, New York Mets. The last of the Big-3 (Harvey, Wheeler) to arrive should live up to those high standards. Another huge arm, Syndergaard could get off to a strong start with his fastball alone. Expect a Wheeler-like timeline for Syndergaard as the Mets likely won’t be in serious contention in the NL East.
Phillies Region–How Bad is it Going to Be?
1. Maybe not QUITE as bad as some people think. Trashing the Phillies has become so chic that if you listen to the national media and the “rival scouts’ you’d probably think they’re going to win 60 games. So, based on that, it might be a little better than you’re expecting. Assuming Hamels does come back by May, the starting pitching should have them in enough games to linger around .500. The offense will be terrible, though, and in a tough division they’ll steadily lose ground. Enough that…
2. Cliff Lee will be traded. Lee, unlike Jimmy Rollins, is pure mercenary. Anyone who would come back to Philly the way he did is clearly pitching just for a ring. There’s no shame in that, just don’t be surprised when Lee is ALL ABOARD for a trade to a contender come summer. And, really, the Phillies owe him that much after jerking him around and then letting the team fall apart around him. Enjoy his last starts, when he’s on the guy is truly a master and probably will always be better liked in Philadelphia than Cole Hamels, because you know, Californians just don’t get it like Cliff.
3. The Biggest Offensive Problems Will Be: Rollins, Howard, Brown. On the flip side of this coin, I’d expect decent seasons out of Revere, Marlon Byrd and a freshly medicated Carlos Ruiz. But, Howard has not fixed any of his bad habits, Rollins will show only flashes and play to stay off the DL (so his option vests) and Brown’s freezing cold spring is one of the biggest red flags I’ve seen in a while.
4. Cross Your Fingers for Maikel Franco. The Phillies big power prospect didn’t amaze anyone this spring, but the fan base is going to need someone to believe in for the future. Franco is the best bet, despite everyone wishing Jessie Biddle into a front-end starter. And, if he can play 3rd all the better, because Cody Asche isn’t happening. Sorry.
The Awards Region:
1. AL MVP: Mike Trout. For several years I picked Miguel Cabrera, backing him until he won and now that he’s taken back-t0-back MVPs, it’s time for Trout to leave him behind. There is absolutely no innovation in this pick, but sometimes things are inevitable. Trout dominated this spring, showing more power and plate discipline. He’s just better than everyone else right now. Picking anyone else would be uninformed.
2. NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki. The NL race is wide-open. Bryce Harper is a popular pick, but still could be a year away from fully reaching his potential. It’ll be tough for Andrew McCutchen to repeat and guys like Goldschmidt and Votto are held back by playing 1st base. Maybe this is the year Tulo stays healthy for 155 games.
3. AL Cy Young: Chris Sale. I was set to pick Yu Darvish, but picking a guy who starts the year on the DL feels a bit dicey. If the White Sox can play a bit better as a team, Sale should move to the front of the discussion for the Cy Young. He’s a legitimate lefty ace and finished 5th in the voting last season.
4. NL Cy Young: Cliff Lee. It’s tough to go against Clayton Kershaw, who is clearly the best pitcher in baseball, but the NL has a lot of top candidates. Strasburg, Zimmerman, Greinke, hell I’d watch out for Michael Wacha. But, for some reason I’m picking Lee who I think will carry the Phillies and then could possibly be moved to a contender to put them over the top. That contender would have to be in the NL, but I’ll take my chances to look like a genius when it happens.
The Playoffs Region:
1. Surprise Playoff Team: Seattle. I was tempted to pick Kansas City, because I’ve gotten 1,000 words into this without mentioning my beloved Royals, but I don’t want to put that on them. Seattle has enough pitching that a little offensive boost could go a long way. No pressure, Cano, but seriously, this is on you–turn the whole lineup around.
2. Biggest Flop: Oakland. Things always feel tenuous for the A’s. Everything has to go right. The young pitchers have to stay healthy. I think this is a year they face some challenges and can’t overcome the odds–again.
3. Your World Series Champion: Los Angeles Dodgers.
My 16th Nugget is obviously going to be Sweet 16 LOCKS. Because even if I can’t fill out a pool for horsebleep, those 1st round pick were kinda nice, no?
Tennessee (+2.5) over Michigan. Line seems a bit low. What happened to that big, dopey white guy that was finishing in transition for Michigan in the tourney last year? Mitch McGary or something? Is he hurt? Alive? Playing in Greece? Vols outright.
Baylor (+3.5) over Wisconsin. It’s the year of the damn dog. Haven’t you been listening? Outright again. Wisconsin scores MAYBE 43 points.
Arizona (-8) over San Diego St. All I heard about SD State was how tough they were on D, and how they gave Arizona a game last time. That had me expecting 4.5 points or thereabouts. This makes it feel like a Wildcats blowout.