The MLB regular season is upon us now that Spring Training has officially begun. I know, those couple of days out of the year when a baseball game isn’t being played is tremendously difficult to get through. What’s the point of even watching this year? The Chicago Cubs have won the World Series and a dynasty is probably about to begin which will make us all quickly regret cheering for them to break the curse last year; now we will just dislike them as much as every other franchise that always wins – oh, sports are just grand. Solution after your team doesn’t make the 2017 postseason: root for the Cleveland Indians. Big Papi won’t be in the lineup at Fenway anymore, and fans can only watch the future Hall-of-Famer in commercials now. Solution: get bored watching Boston’s pitching staff dominate the league – don’t expect any souvenir balls while the three-headed monster of Rick Porcello, David Price, and Chris Sale are on the mound.
So, really, what is there to watch? Tim Tebow, duh! Okay, so after he gets cut, then what is there? The great thing about baseball having such a long season is that anything can happen… literally anything (reference first paragraph, fourth sentence). The league has some bright and insanely good young stars either ready for their breakout season or ready to keep adding to their Hall-of-Fame resumes (and receive way too much money to do so).
Who cares about the pitching staffs the Red Sox and New York Mets have. The boys of summer are back, and their bats are ready to give us something to watch after the NBA and NHL playoffs end and football begins. Get to the stadium and bring your glove.
15 15. GARY SANCHEZ: 30 HR, 87 RBI
Spoiler Alert: Gary Sanchez is the only New York Yankee on this list. Usually baseball articles are cluttered with pinstripes, but things are different – for the time being. Don’t think for one minute that the Yankees didn’t know what they were doing as they unloaded all their players last year during the trade deadline to free up some cap space. Their plan is for big signings in 2018 that involve two players sitting at the top of this list (don’t skip ahead!). The really scary part is that they still almost made the postseason with not-your-father’s Yankees. Leading the way for the misfits is Gary Sanchez. This dude had an immediate impact after being called-up. In his 53 games he hit 20 home runs and accounted for 42 RBI. Imagine if he had a full season! He was on pace to hit over 60 homeruns and bat in over 125 runners. Of course, that won’t happen in 2017, but he will be behind the plate for most of the season, and his bat will do some talking.
14 14. COREY SEAGER: 30 HR, 93 RBI
From one youngster playing for a classic franchise to another, Corey Seager had an amazing season last year – almost as productive as his older brother, Kyle, in Seattle. I’m sure family dinners during the offseason don’t involve trash-talking or brotherly wrestling matches. Sure, Kyle had more home runs and RBI than his younger brother, but it wasn’t by much, and Corey had a better batting average at .308. The frightening part is that Corey is only 22 at the moment and he plays like a veteran. He’s solid at short for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he’s starting to build a reputation that puts him in MVP consideration from here on out. What’s also a tad terrifying for the rest of the NL West is that he’s just getting started. 26 and 72 is a good season for anyone, but to put those numbers up as your debut. Watch out, Kyle, family dinners are going to get a lot more awkward.
13 13. EDWIN ENCARNACION: 31 HR, 94 RBI
Some may think Edwin Encarnacion is too old. Some may also think that he looks weird with his arm sticking out when he runs the bases after a home run and wonder what the hell he’s doing. I sure know I do. Cleveland Indians’ fans are eager to find out if he’s worth the $60 million he signed on for this offseason, and soon we will, and he probably won’t disappoint. However, the left field wall at Progressive Field is higher than what Encarnacion is used to in Toronto. It will play a part, so don’t expect the righty to hit over 40 home runs this year as he did a year ago. Also, this will be a great opportunity to show critics that he’s not just all about power, for Cleveland’s home field isn’t as hitter-friendly as the Blue Jays’ park, and he must manufacture other ways to drive-in runs if the long ball isn’t as easy to come across as it used to be. He will be productive, but don’t be surprised if his numbers drop.
12 12. MIGUEL CABRERA: 31 HR, 103 RBI
Miguel Cabrera is arguably the greatest hitter of all time. I’m not a physic, but there’s a very good possibility he will reach the 3,000-club during his career, and if not, then something is very wrong with the world. There has been only two seasons during his 14-year tenure in the majors when he didn’t have over 100 RBI, and he’s hit over 30 home runs in 10 of those seasons. He’s not only one of the greatest hitters of all time, he’s one of the most consistent, recording a career batting average of .321. That is amazing! I won’t go as far to say that he’s going to win the triple crown this year, but the Detroit fans should expect more from Cabrera on the under-achieving Tigers. They will battle the Cleveland Indians for a good portion of the year, but their best bet to reach the postseason is to compete with a lot of good teams in the AL fighting for a Wild Card spot come fall. Cabrera will do his job, but will the rest of the team do theirs?
11 11. ROBINSON CANO/NELSON CRUZ: 69 HR, 194 RBI
Pitchers, take your pick on who you want to throw to because it’s not going to be a fun afternoon when playing the Seattle Mariners this year. However, if I had a say in things, I would try to avoid trying out new pitches or strategies against Robinson Cano as much as possible. Nelson Cruz will have a solid year again, but the 36-year-old will have to eventually trail off (right? Maybe?) or accidently use a banned substance again. Sure, he’s hit over 40 home runs the past three seasons, but look for a small decline this year. On the other hand, when one head of the monster is weakening, the other gets stronger; it’s just what happens, maybe, consult a mythology book. Expect Cano to stay consistent – he’s the better hitter, and at Safeco, one of the more pitcher-friendly parks, you need to spread the ball around. With that being said, it’s even more impressive what these two guys accomplish.
10 10. CHRIS DAVIS/MARK TRUMBO: 78 HR, 203 RBI
After a slight break, onto the next two-headed beast: Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo. Trumbo led the league in homeruns in 2016 with 47. Chris Davis had a down year with 38. The two combined for 192 RBI, Trumbo carrying more of the load with 108. With that being said, expect more of the same this year; however, Davis will be the more productive of the two for two reasons. Reason first, it seems he likes to be overly-good every other season. Example (HR/RBI): 2013- 53/138; 2014- 26/72; 2015- 47/117. So he’s due, right? Reason second, Trumbo just signed a multi-year deal for essentially being a slugger and in the past that hasn’t exactly worked out great for teams the following season (reference Chris Davis’ 2016 year and Josh Hamilton whenever that disaster happened for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim). Two things are for sure: these two guys are going to smash the ball, and strike out a whole hell of lot trying.
9 9. JOSE ALTUVE/CARLOS CORREA/ALEX BREGMAN: 84 HR, 284 RBI
Okay, these monsters are getting out of control so we’re just going to start combining their stats, how about that? The Houston Astros’ infield is set to have an amazing season and it will lead to the AL West crown. In case you were wondering, Cerberus is the three-headed (usually) beast from Greek Mythology, the guard of the Underworld, preventing the wicked from leaving Hades. The more you know (queue the rainbow). Anyway, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman are on the brink of dominating. Altuve was in MVP contention last year, Correa has already solidified stardom, and Bregman is ready to prove his potential. Between the three, they accounted for 52 home runs and 226 RBI, and Bregman only played 49 games last year. These three players are going to make the Astros contenders come playoff time. 2017 is the year of Cerberus and opposing rotations are doomed.
8 8. BRIAN DOZIER: 37 HR, 109 RBI
I will bet you a box of Cracker Jacks that if Brian Dozier played on a big market team then he would be a household name to people other than those who obsess about baseball. In each of his five years he’s increased his home runs and RBI, including last year’s breakout season when he hit 42 dingers and batted in 99 runners. In addition, his batting average was the highest it’s been since he joined the Minnesota Twins for his debut in 2012. What can we take from all of this? That it’s unfortunate he plays for Minnesota. What can we also take from all of this? That he’s starting to peak and his numbers should increase this year, perhaps not in home runs – as he finished tied for third in the majors in 2016 – but expect him to eclipse 100 RBI this year. Seriously, all he needed was one more last season and he would have, but Twins’ players are against getting on base consistently.
7 7. MOOKIE BETTS: 37 HR, 115 RBI
Mookie Betts is the kind of guy who doesn’t look like he packs as much power as he does. He is much larger than his 5’9”, 180 lbs frame shows – that’s not a fat joke either. With the absence of Big Papi, Betts is primed to be even more productive. In 2016, he hit 31 home runs, drove in 113 runners, and batted a whopping .318. Many believe that the Boston Red Sox may decline on the offensive side of things this season, and the argument is certainly valid now that David Ortiz has retired, but other players will just step up a tad more and they won’t miss a beat. It’s a potent offense, and Betts if going to lead the way and again have his name in the hat for AL MVP. Like the Houston Astros, the Red Sox will win their division – or they should on paper; anything less will be a disappointment.
6 6. JOSH DONALDSON: 39 HR, 118 RBI
With Edwin Encarnacion in Cleveland and Jose Bautista showing his age, Josh Donaldson is ready to have a great season like he did in 2015. The Rogers Centre in Toronto is a wonderful park to hit the ball out of, and now with less home runs being tallied by other players, Donaldson will probably have more chances to drive in runs because they aren’t selfishly being taken away by Encarnacion and Bautista. Of course, this is all depending on if pitchers decide to take their chances or work around the All-Star because there are no other immediate threats looming. However, it won’t matter; so, fans, get ready to see his hunched batting stance, his redneck smile, and his strange haircuts time and time again during the evening highlights. He’s going to have to have a big year because the AL East is going to be a solid division once again – good thing almost every stadium in that division is hitter-friendly. The exception: Tampa Bay, but their pitching staff is very hitter-friendly so it all balances out.
5 5. MIKE TROUT: 39 HR, 123 RBI
Mike Trout is the quintessential five-tool player, a perennial MVP candidate, and a man who looks like he was built for baseball. He is one of the game’s biggest stars, if not the biggest, but unfortunately the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim do their best not to help out their star by not surrounding him with the other tools that are needed (though, they are probably tools Trout has). On a side note, does anyone else find it weird that the team name is The Angels Angels? Anyway, Trout can’t do it all, and he will once again, and somehow it will be better. He will lead the team in stolen bases, hits, runs, batting average, homeruns, and RBI in 2017, and could possibly lead the league if he didn’t play in the bat-heavy AL. However, the AL West is a little too stacked for the Angels to make some noise, but at least Trout brings in fans even when the team is bad. If you think about it, he kind of runs their marketing department as well. Man, he really does everything.
4 4. KRIS BRYANT: 40 HR, 124 RBI
Remember when Kris Bryant was this crappy rookie in 2015 who was overhyped and wasn’t going to amount to anything? No? Okay good because that was never an issue. I know he’s only been in the league for two years, but the Chicago Cubs have never missed the playoffs since he was called up – actually they’ve never not been in the NLCS. I apologize for the double negative, but it was needed. Remember when I said that Kris Bryant has only been in the league for two years (I hope you do or you should get your head checked out)? That’s relevant because it’s really really scary how good and how experienced he is at such a young age. He blasted 39 homeruns last year and drove in 102 batters and that’s in the NL where the pitching is usually fantastic. Don’t be surprised if he’s doing this for a long time – and don’t expect another curse to start in Chicago while he’s around. Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
3 3. MANNY MACHADO: 42 HR, 127 RBI
Manny Machado is an extraordinary talent, and he’s getting better each year statistically. That is, if he stays healthy. He’s had two knee injuries that may make teams wary of signing the massive deal he’s projected to receive after the end of the 2017 season, but then again, baseball teams love to spend money. A converted shortstop, Machado has become nearly flawless at third base on the defensive side, and though people know he can hit, he’s due for a breakout season at the plate. What better time to do so during a contract year? Machado is going to help the Baltimore Orioles out, but then he’s going to put a lot of pressure on the organization after the season is over. His 2016 totals of 37 homeruns and 96 RBI will increase this year, and his production combined with Chris Davis’ and Mark Trumbo’s is going to make games a bit longer in Baltimore once again. Ah, how nice it is to hit in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
2 2. NOLAN ARENADO: 45 HR, 134 RBI
If you don’t know who Nolan Arenado is then it’s either because you live under a rock which I assume is quite uncomfortable and unhealthy, or that he’s just not as recognized because he plays for the Colorado Rockies. I’m going with the latter. Arenado has hit for over 40 homeruns and 130 RBI in each of his last two seasons, leading the majors in the RBI category both years. I’m not saying the Rockies are going to be a super-team this year, but they’re going to be better than expected, and Arenado will flirt with winning the NL MVP (if it wasn’t for number one on this list – don’t look ahead, you’re so close!). He will raise his batting average, the Rockies will get more runners on base, and he will increase his RBI total, setting a career high. Here’s a fun observation if you didn’t pick up on it: there are five third basemen on this list, including three in the top five. Maybe there’s something about that corner position?
1 1. BRYCE HARPER: 51 HR, 136 RBI
Let’s be honest. Bryce Harper was garbage last year if compared to normal Bryce Harper. I mean, 24 homeruns, 86 RBI, and a .243 batting average? What is this? He obviously needs to be sent down to the minors. Honestly, he hasn’t even put up numbers like a few others on this list during his career. Oh, and to add to the jabs, people think he looks and acts like a jerk. With all that being said, consider this a warning for the rest of a league because a great baseball player is about to go off. The Washington Nationals are in win-now mode and are putting the pieces in place to make a World Series run. Harper is about to come the highest paid player in MLB history after the 2017 season. With the combination of an urgent franchise and a player ready to add to his resume before the big payday, there’s no reason for Harper to falter. He’s disappointed after his performance last year, frustrated he’s never been to the World Series, and probably a little angry after reading the first part of this post. Just kidding, he’s not reading this. Maybe. I don't know. Hi, Bryce!
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