Major League Baseball's Spring Training workouts officially begins on February 14th, which gives Chicago Cubs fans less than a month to finish celebrating last season's historic World Series win over the American League's Cleveland Indians. It also gives Indian fans a few weeks before they can forget the Game 7 loss to the Cubs and look forward to getting back to the World Series in 2017.
In the meantime, the rest of the league has been signing free agents, making trades, and doing whatever they can do to compete on the same level as the Cubs or the Indians.
Even though the 2017 free agency class is weak compared to what is about to happen in 2018, there was still some really big signings including Aroldis Chapman, who decided to go back to the team that traded him to Chicago last year, the New York Yankees, for $86 million over five years. Edwin Encarnacion, Dexter Fowler, Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond, and Mark Melancon are among the other stars that are filling out a change of address form at the post office for this upcoming season.
Since we cannot see into the future, it is too early to tell whether or not the decisions were good or bad but the one thing we can do is talk about it. We can also talk about the future of some of the league's biggest stars and future stars as we head into the upcoming 2017 MLB season.
15 Byron Buxton, CF, MIN
At some point, the 23-year old phenom needs to catch a break and start showing why the Minnesota Twins decided to call him up in 2015, when he was only 21 years young. Although he was sent to the minors after another slow start last season, he came back in May and played the rest of the year with a .237 batting average, 10 HR and 36 RBI. His speed in the outfield has made him a player that will always find a job in the MLB so the Twins need to be patient with him as he continues to improve each year.
Because of his age, there is a lot to be excited about heading into this upcoming year, including his insane range in Centerfield where he has shown he can cover the entire outfield. He is primed to become the Twins lead-off hitter for many years to come, once he figures out how to hit more consistently. All it takes is one year to hit .340 and the league forgets the two years he struggled. 2017 will be a breakout year for the kid but do not expect MVP caliber numbers just yet. Just be ready for his talents to shine in a very young Twins lineup.
14 Ichiro Suzuki, RF, MIA
In 2015, the Miami Marlins signed Ichiro Suzuki to a one-year deal worth $2 million that also gave them a club option for $2 million in 2017, which they have exercised and even added an option for 2018. So he is basically on a year-by-year contract right now, which is understandable for a 43-year old hitting legend, who recently hit his 3,000th hit last August becoming the 30th player in baseball history to reach that amazing plateau. After playing nine seasons in Japan, and getting 1,278 hits, he has now combined to beat Pete Rose's infamous hits record of 4,256.
Now 43, Ichiro heads into the 2017 season looking to help contribute in any way possible until he is 50 years old, according to an interview he had with ESPN The Magazine last summer. So while conventional wisdom makes us think he will only last another year, or two, he expects to play well beyond what we ever thought could happen.
Whether he does or doesn't is up to him but once he retires, expect to see him inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame five years later.
13 Madison Bumgarner, LHP, SF
Madison Bumgarner has carried the San Francisco Giants rotation for five years now and is one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball. His worst season was back in 2010, his rookie year, when he went 7-6 with a 3.00 ERA after pitching 111 innings with 86 strikeouts in 18 starts. In 2011, he made a massive step forward and solidified his role with the Giants defense.
But look at his numbers from 2012 thru 2016 if you really want to see what he can do. He has a 80-48 record with a 2.96 ERA, 14 complete games, six shutouts, 1,094 strikeouts, and 247 walks. He owns three World Series rings, a World Series MVP in 2014, and owns several MLB pitching records including a 0.25 career World Series ERA. He has only given up one run in three World Series starts making him one of the most incredible clutch pitchers in baseball.
After pitching in the most games in a season, of his career, with 34 in 2016, he lowered his ERA to a career-low in a season with 2.74. He heads into the 2017 season as a heavy favorite to lead the Giants once again.
12 Chris Sale, LHP, BOS
In 2012, Chris Sale became an MLB All-Star and one of the premier pitchers in the American League. His strikeout-to-walk ratio showed signs of a future star in him and over the past five seasons, Sale has gone 70-47 with a 3.04 ERA, 14 Complete Games, two shutouts, 1,133 strikeouts, amd 223 walks.
Now that he has signed with Boston, many pundits are not sure if his arm can handle the Fenway curse that has bitten John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Rick Porcello and David Price. Both pitchers went from studs to duds in their first year in Boston before bouncing back in their second year. He has pitched six times in Fenway before with a 1-1 record, 3.63 ERA, 24 strikeouts, and four walks. But that is not a measurement for success in Fenway Park.
He will have a down year but Red Sox fans should not worry because a down year for Chris Sale is a 15 win season with a 3.80 ERA, and 250 strikeouts.
11 Josh Donaldson, 3B, TOR
In Oakland, Josh Donaldson got his first big break in 2010 when he was called up from Triple-A and played in 14 games. After spending the 2011 season back in the minors, he got his last call-up of his career in 2012 when he went moved from catcher to third base and played in 74 games, hitting nine HR, 33 RBI, and 16 doubles with a .241 batting average.
He continued to increase his power hitting and eventually won the American League MVP award following his incredible 2015 season where he had 41 HR, 123 RBI and hit .284 from the plate. His defense at third base usually goes unnoticed because of his power behind the plate but when he is slamming the ball around the park and making plays at the hot corner, he is one of the best in baseball.
He is currently right where he needs to be and is at the peak of his game. With Edwin Encarnacion leaving for Cleveland, he no longer has the back-to-back monster combo or Edwin and Jose Bautista to protect him in the order making the 2017 a perfect time for him to showcase his true hitting abilities. He should continue his hitting and be one of the league's top ten in Home Runs, RBI, and batting average once again, and maybe even for the next three or four years too.
10 Mike Trout, CF, LAA
Mike Trout is exciting to watch. He is talented, powerful, and makes some of the best catches in the outfield you have ever seen. He is easily among the best players in baseball and is the best player in the American League, which is obvious after he won his second AL MVP award in 2016.
Although many people expected the AL MVP to go to Mookie Betts, when it was given to Mike Trout, people wondered how that could be when his team finished the season with a 74-88 record and fourth place in the AL West. But he put up a season worthy of the award when he hit .315 with 29 HR and 100 RBI. If you forget about the walks for a second, then you would get a set of numbers that have been reached only 11 other times in baseball history. But given that most of his at-bats were walks, he became the only player to ever put up that stat line, ever.
He is the best Centerfielder in baseball and will win more MVP awards before he is through having finished in the top-two in each of the past five seasons. He could end up with more AL MVP awards than anyone else ever has won before.
9 Alex Reyes, RHP, STL
Last August, the Cardinals called up one of their top pitching prospects, Alex Reyes, who then went 4-1 through five starts with a 1.57 ERA, 52 strikeouts, and 23 walks. The 22-year old stud prospect is expected to be the Cardinals third or fourth starter this season but we expect him to climb to possibly the second spot, depending on how the season is going by the All-Star break and/or the health of Adam Wainwright, who missed most of 2015 but managed to play 33 games last season.
Alex Reyes has many tools in his utility belt including a 97 mph four-seam fastball, 95 mph two-seamer, changeup, slider, and curveball. He can throw them all but his most dangerous two pitches are the fourseam fastball mixed with the changeup. Hitters in the minors had a lot of trouble figuring him out and he ended up with 449 strikeouts in the minors, with only 170 walks, making him the next big Right-Handed stud in the Cardinals rotation. If he does not explode in 2017, expect an All-Star year in 2018, without a doubt.
8 Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL
The National League has plenty of power and that is a cause for concern as many of the best hitters in the league have been doing it for two or three years by now. Nolan Arenado has spent the last two seasons hitting like a MVP with a .291 BA, 213 R, 83 HR, and 263 RBI, or better yet, he has averaged, 42 HR, 132 RBI, and 106 R,between the two years. Either way you look at it, based on his two year production, there is not anyone that has hit better all-around then Nolan.
He heads into the 2017 as one of only three MLB hitters to hit 40 or more Home Runs over each of the past two seasons. He also has the advantage of playing in the paper thin air of Denver, Colorado which is known to give more power to hitters than usual. But he can still hit outside of the mile high city and, just last year, he hit 16 Home Runs and 48 RBI away from Coors Field.
After avoiding arbitration, he has reportedly signed a two-year deal worth $29.5 million and will remain in Colorado until 2019, meaning we could see him hit for 40 or more Home Runs for five consecutive seasons, as he improves his hitting each season until he becomes the MVP the Colorado Rockies were hoping for.
7 Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARZ
In six seasons, Paul Goldschmidt has become one of the best first baseman in baseball having improved his all-around game each season and showcased it last year when he stole 32 bases, a feat no one expected from the power-hitting first baseman. He has shown us that he could very well become the fourth player in MLB history to join the 40-40-100 club (40 HR, 40 SB, 100 RBI). His 32 stolen bases were not from luck or bad pitching, it was his above-average speed that he has improved upon since 2011.
His consistency at the plate has made him a candidate for the NL MVP, finishing in second place in voting, twice over the past four seasons. His only downside is that he plays in a lineup that is young and unpolished but that should not mean he cannot win the MVP with the D'Backs. He has one of the best shots to be a true leader and carry them into the World Series, eventually.
6 Yoan Moncada, 3B, CHW
The Boston Red Sox could not get back to the World Series in 2016 because they could not stop the Cleveland Indians hot hitting lineup. So they went out and traded away their most prized minor league prospect for, and a few other players, in a package deal to get Chicago White Sox Ace, Chris Sale.
Yoan Moncada is the prospect we are referring to that is now going to be fast tracked to becoming the next superstar in Chicago. He got called up last year and only hit .211 in his eight games. He was not very impressive but that was in Boston and usually a player is not going to shine in just 19 at-bats. He is currently being projected as the White Sox starting Shortstop and should hit second in their lineup this season which could result in a solid rookie campaign that should get him 20 HR, 50 RBI, 60 R, and 25 SB.
5 Bryce Harper, OF, WAS
Dominance at a young age is not something that baseball fans are used to seeing. Normally when a player turns into an All-Star, he has spent a few years or so in the minors and majors earning his stripes. Bryce Harper, however, only spent two years in the minors before reaching the majors in 2012 at only 19 years old. He ended up with 22 HR and 59 RBI in just 139 games, quite impressive for a man child seeing his first MLB action ever.
He took a step back in 2013 and ended up battling an injury that cost him almost half of the season. But then he erupted in 2015 with 42 HR, 99 RBI, 118 R, and a .330 batting average.
His inconsistencies have been masked by a talent that very few players posses in this league and he ended up with only a .243 batting average last season with 24 HR, 86 RBI, and 84 R. His numbers were great but for a man that can double that output of power, it was a disappointing season to say the least.
With only five seasons to analyze, the only trend we could find is that he is going to bounce back, he always has, and should get the MVP-caliber numbers we come to expect from the power-hitting superstar.
4 Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU
Since his rookie season, Jose Altuve has never been afraid of improving his all-around game and has gotten better each year in different areas of his game while working towards becoming an American League MVP (He finished third in voting last year). He has improved his hitting and has led the league in hitting in two of the past three seasons.
His improvements can be seen across the board too. The most impressive part of his game that turned him into a true MVP candidate last year was his power, which was showcased when he hit 24 home runs last year to go with his .338 batting average, 96 RBI, and 30 SB. He should continue to get good pitches in a stacked 2017 Houston Astros lineup that now has Carlos Correa, George Springer, Evan Gattis, Yulieski Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann.
The exciting Astros from 2015 look to be back in 2017 with Jose Altuve leading the way. He should compete for the AL MVP and just might be the first Houston Astros player to ever win the AL MVP, ever.
3 Mookie Betts, RF, BOS
When the Boston Red Sox drafted Mookie Betts in 2011, they knew, as did most of the diehard baseball fans, that he was going to become a stud in their lineup very quickly. Last year proved to be the year he would become that stud and he almost won the American League MVP award because of his season after hitting .318 with 31 HR, 113 RBI, and 26 SB. He came within four stolen bases of joining a list of only 4 men that have had a more productive season.
With a ton of years ahead for the young stud, and a loaded lineup and one of the leagues best rotations, Mookie Betts should find himself right back in the MVP mix next season, in 2018, etc...
His athleticism and durability makes him a candidate to break plenty of records over the years, as long as he remains healthy and with the Red Sox. He fights into their powerful young lineup perfectly and would end up having to become too much of a main star anywhere else to produce the same type of numbers.
2 Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC
From 2013 until 2015, Kris Bryant flew through the minor leagues hitting .327 with 55 HR, 152 RBI, and 18 SB in only 181 games. When the Cubs decided to give him a shot in 2015, he did not disappoint. He turned in a season that ended up winning him the 2015 National League Rookie of the Year by hitting 26 HR, 99 RBI, and 13 SB while batting .275. He followed his rookie season with an even better one in 2016 when he hit 39 HR, 102 RBI, 35 2B, and batted .292 at the plate. This led to both a National League MVP award and the Chicago Cubs winning a World Series, first time since 1908.
Since baseball fans love to analyze data, a quick look into the Cubs best player would show just how good he will be. He has few weaknesses and a multitude of positive statistics that prove he will continue down the path he is currently on and could repeat as the NL MVP this year and in 2018. He has the potential to become one of the greatest Cubbies in franchise history, and we think he will continue to live up to the hype.
1 Clayton Kershaw, LHP, LAD
Jake Arrieta, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, or any other starting pitcher you could name cannot come close to the dominance that Clayton Kershaw has put on the league since 2011. They might have one or two seasons that are better than Clayton Kershaw's, but overall, since 2009, there has not been a more dominating pitcher in baseball. In fact, for his career, Clayton Kershaw has a 126-60 record with a 2.37 ERA, 1,918 strikeouts, and 477 walks over nine seasons. No one has ever reached those numbers in MLB history because most pitchers have a higher ERA or more walks. Not a single pitcher in baseball history has been more efficient than Clayton Kershaw.
But the Los Angeles Dodgers have not reached the World Series since 1988, even with Clayton Kershaw pitching himself into the Hall of Fame every five games each season. If he can come back from last seasons injury, he should put up another 15 wins, 250 strikeouts against just 35 or so walks, and a very small 2.10 ERA.