Watching great hurlers baffle opposing batters with crafty speed changes and foxily-placed pitches is beautiful. It’s also awesome to behold athletic, expert fielders make farfetched defensive plays. Nothing in baseball, however, beats the appeal of a piercing crack of the bat; followed by a supersonic line drive or a towering moonshot. Let's be real: Crackling offense is the sexiest aspect of baseball.
Thankfully for MLB fans, no year in recent memory surpasses the offensive promise that the 2017 season provides. An excellent, highly-touted crop of slugging prospects are seizing starting roles on MLB teams--it will be a treat to watch these young players vie for supremacy.
It seems MLB is getting younger: Every team has at least one (but often more than one) compelling offensive wunderkind. Of course, some teams have brighter prospects than others--there has to be stratification or else there wouldn’t be winners and losers at the end of the season.
On top of the profusion of young talent seeping into today’s MLB, there are scores of veterans whose progress will be interesting to track this season. Can aging legends like Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols chug along for another year without wilting? Which team has the ideal mixture of budding prospects and proven players? Which team has the most offensive firepower? Below we’ll explore the answers to these searing questions:
30 Philadelphia Phillies
Runs Per Game Last Season: 3.77
Key Lineup Additions: Michael Saunders, Howie Kendrick
Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco are covetous cornerstones for Philadelphia’s offense, but there isn’t much luster surrounding the duo.
Kendrick and Saunders will shore up Philly’s corner outfield production--the Phillies had one of the least productive outfields in MLB in 2016. Neither addition, however, is a serious game-changer.
Franco, Saunders, and Tommy Joseph possess 20-plus HR potential. If they are able to supply Philly’s offense with steady power, the Fightins’ could improve upon 2016's 28th-ranked offense. Franco will look to outperform his 2016 rates of .255 BA and .306 OBP.
It would be a boon for Philadelphia if Hererra can improve his power numbers. The center fielder has been great, but he’ll be even more valuable if he hones his power stroke. Hererra’s 2016 slash line: .286 BA, 14 HR, .361 OBP, .781 OPS, 25 SB.
29 Chicago White Sox
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.23
Key Lineup Additions: Yoan Moncada
The White Sox retain their lumbering offensive core of Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier heading into 2017. Respectively, the slugging infielders posted OPS rates of .820 and .767 last season. Frazier’s contact rate and batting average grossly slipped, but his power didn't fade.
There’s boundless potential among Chicago’s auxiliary position players, but it’s unlikely that the extent of that potential will be realized this season. Moncada--who was acquired via the Chris Sale trade--comes fervently touted, but he’s prone to major league growing pains given his loopy swing and high strikeout rate. He’ll be 22 in May.
Charlie Tilson (OF), Tim Anderson (2B), and Omar Narvaez (C) are promising but unseasoned players that project to get ample playing time for the White Sox. Among them, Anderson has the most MLB at-bats with 410--he hit .283 with 9 bombs last year. This will be an exciting group to watch develop.
28 San Diego Padres
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.23
Key Lineup Additions: None
The Padres’ presumed lineup is comprised of unproven, fledgling batters. Will Meyers and Yangervis Solarte, young as they may be, are the veteran pillars of San Diego’s offense in 2017.
There’s seeming upside in many of San Diego’s green position players: Hunter Renfroe (OF) and Ryan Schimpf (2B) project 25-plus HR ability in the bigs.
Travis Jankowski and Manuel Margot are ranging outfielders with a penchant for base stealing, but neither has demonstrated a keen eye. Jankowski posted a half-decent .332 OBP last season to complement his 30 SB, but he’ll have to get on base at a higher rate if he’ll be an effective catalyst for the Padres.
One of San Diego’s banes is that none of their starting hitters projects to post an OBP above .335. While Renfroe, Schimpf, Hedges, and Meyers may provide power, their base-clearing knocks will be for naught if their teammates aren’t drawing walks and getting on base.
With time and reps, the juvenile Padres will improve their collective plate discipline. This season will be formative.
27 Milwaukee Brewers
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.14 (25th)
Key Lineup Additions: Eric Thames
The Brewers are bejeweled with A-1 prospects like Orlando Arcia (SS) and Keon Broxton (OF). There’s no reason to think that Milwaukee will make a major leap from last year’s ho-hum offense, though. It will take more seasons to coalesce.
Jonathan Villar was brilliant in 2016: The shortstop clocked in an OPS of .826 with 19 homers and 62 steals. Braun was also very good; normal fare for him. Broxton showed appreciable on-base prowess last season, too. Arcia was unspectacular in limited playing time, but he’s only 22 and MLB has a steep learning curve.
The most intriguing wildcard for the Brewers is Eric Thames. Thames played a marginal role in MLB for a few seasons before tearing up the KBO with hyperbolic offensive stats the past handful of years. If he can somehow parlay his overseas success to MLB, Milwaukee could trump expectations.
26 Oakland Athletics
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.03 (28th)
Key Lineup Additions: Rajai Davis, Trevor Plouffe, Matt Joyce
Kris Davis and Marcus Semien propped Oakland’s offense with a combined 69 homers in 2016. Their power surge, plus Ryon Healy’s emergence as a quality batsman, didn’t vault Oakland from the bottom tier of MLB offenses last year; and Oakland’s free agent acquisitions this winter don’t figure to rectify their offensive woes.
Oakland boasts several bona fide sluggers, but the Athletics struggled to get on base in order to capitalize on their middle-of-the-lineup power: Last year the A’s were 28th in OBP (.304) and 28th in OPS (.699). Davis and Plouffe aren’t likely to alleviate Oakland’s troubles getting on base. Their value lies elsewhere.
Matt Joyce, however, may provide a spark. Joyce’s 2016 OBP was a peachy .403; his ability to get on base ahead of the team’s clobbering bats will be crucial.
25 Tampa Bay Rays
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.15
Key Lineup Additions: Colby Rasmus
Tampa’s pitching staff is much scarier than their offense. It has been that way for years now.
Like Oakland, the Rays have several imposing sluggers, including the superlative Evan Longoria, but the team hasn’t been able to reach base at an adequate level. In 2016, Tampa Bay’s OBP was fourth-worst in MLB (.307).
Brad Miller, Corey Dickerson, and Steven Souza have crackling pop. At the expense of that power, none of them get on base at a prolific rate. Colby Rasmus fits the smash-or-whiff mold the Rays are abiding by--he’s a powerful swinger but he doesn’t reach base consistently.
Maybe there’s untold upside in Miller--who hit 30 dingers last season--and Souza, who hit 17. They’re both in their mid-twenties with time (and need) for maturation at the plate.
24 Minnesota Twins
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.46
Key Lineup Additions: None
The Twins’ offense is hard to forecast. We can expect colossal output from Brian Dozier, who smacked 42 home runs in 2016, but Minnesota’s flock of developing position players have plenty left to prove.
Max Kepler, Miguel Sano, and Byron Buxton have been inconsistent at best since getting called up. Each of them are heralded as gems. They might become MLB mainstays, but they haven’t validated the hype yet: Sano regressed last season; Buxton has been dismal; and Kepler was okay (17 HR, .309 OBP) during his rookie campaign.
Minnesota’s prospects could be primed to explode in 2017, or maybe it will take a few more seasons for them to flesh out their issues. Joe Mauer’s decline reckons to continue this season. Polanco, Vargas, and Rosario need to establish that they can sustain solid production throughout an entire season.
If their young guns' improvement at the plate ramps wildly this season, the Twins will be more potent than this ranking suggests.
23 Cincinnati Reds
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.42
Key Lineup Additions: None
Joey Votto is gold. Adam Duvall emerged as a dynamic power threat in 2016. Billy Hamilton’s speed is an asset and he’s due to create more sparks with his bat. Yet shallow depth and unreliability loom over the Reds’ lineup.
In limited playing time, Scott Shebler performed well as a regular outfielder in 2016: He hit 9 homers with a .762 OPS in 82 games. If he can hold that level of quality production through a full season, Shebler will be a key cog for Cincy.
All told, the Reds have a few standout batters (like Votto) and decent power potential throughout their roster. Besides Votto, Cincinnati will not be fielding many high OBP threats.
If Duvall proves that his rookie year wasn’t an anomaly and Hamilton refines his slapping stroke, the Reds will offer a serviceable offense in 2017, but there are too many chancy propositions at hand to be very confident in their lineup.
22 Atlanta Braves
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.03
Key lineup additions: Brandon Phillips
Atlanta has collected a mesh of young dynamos and savvy veteran batters for their 2017 campaign. Their presumed 3-4-5 of Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp, and Brandon Phillips is a proven high-caliber trio.
Kemp and Freeman both hit 30-plus bombs last year and each had an OPS over .800--Freeman’s was a remarkable .968. Their surrounding cast is more dubious: Phillips appears to be declining, though perhaps his arrival in Atlanta may stir up his old mettle.
Ender Inciarte’s plate discipline and speed make him a choice leadoff man for the Braves. We’ll see about Dansby Swanson and Adonis Garcia: Both were decent (especially the younger Swanson) last season, but it’s improbable that the fresh-faced shortstop will maintain such success throughout the course of his first full MLB campaign.
21 Kansas City Royals
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.17
Key Lineup Additions: Jorge Soler, Brandon Moss
Due to injuries and substandard outputs from some of their regulars like Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City’s offense fell off from their tuned and triumphant 2015 groove.
The Royals will rebound to above-average offensive potency if they can ward off injuries and play to their potential. Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar need to get on base more frequently if KC is going to be a force. It’s imperative that Gordon brushes off his aberrant 2016.
Losing Kendrys Morales and his 30-plus home run potential is a blow--the team must unify to fill the void left by Morales. Moss will help.
Picking up Soler was a keen move for the Royals. His talents have always been lauded, but the young Cuban never quite gelled with the Cubs. As a full-time DH, he will be solely focused on crushing baseballs; not diluted by chasing them in the outfield. He could potentially break out.
20 New York Mets
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.14
Key Lineup Additions: None
In contrast to their pitching staff, New York’s offensive squad is aging and volatile.
Cespedes is a strong linchpin for the Mets’ lineup: The Cuban powerhouse has hit 30-plus HR in each of the last two seasons, along with an .870-plus OPS through his tenure with New York.
Neil Walker admirably complemented Cespedes in the order last season; with 23 HR and an .823 OPS. Granderson and Cabrera are solid batsmen, albeit neither is sprightly nor teeming with potential.
If Grandy and Cabrera maintain decent production in the face of age, the Mets will score enough runs to support their studded pitching staff. If Jay Bruce recaptures the magic of his best years in Cincinnati and Duda can recover without incident from his injuries, the Mets will have a powerful lineup with average on-base acumen.
If they played in a more hitter friendly home park, the Mets might have snagged a higher ranking. They’re certainly capable of scoring enough runs if their health holds up.
19 Miami Marlins
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.07
Key Lineup Additions: None
Don’t let their RPG from last year deceive you: The Marlins are better than their output last season suggests.
Dee Gordon’s suspension and various injuries prevented Miami from realizing their offensive potential in 2016. The Fish will be more commanding at the plate if they get full, healthy campaigns from Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon.
In spite of the team’s scoring hardships, Christian Yelich (21 HR, .859 OPS) and J.T. Realmuto (.303 BA, 11 HR) had breakout seasons. Marcell Ozuno recovered from a wretched 2015 with solid production.
The Marlins’ lineup offers a fetching blend of power, speed, and plate discipline. Health and consistency have been thorny issues--Miami is liable to be overrun by such complications.
If they can avoid being swamped by injuries and random lapses, Miami’s offense will be at least decent. They’re still pretty young.
18 Los Angeles Angels
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.43
Key Lineup Additions: Cameron Maybin, Dany Espinosa
Mike Trout? Yeah, having him on your side helps.
Trout’s eliteness aside, the Angels are shallow offensively. Pujols, however, has been a respectable supplier of power and RBI: the venerated first baseman has hit 40 and 31 homers in his last two seasons respectively.
Calhoun got on base at a solid clip ahead of Trout and Pujols last season while providing decent pop himself (18 HR). C.J. Cron is not an ideal piece for protecting Trout and Pujols in the lineup, but he’s young and owns 25-plus HR potential.
Calhoun and Cron are not quite top-notch players, but they’re more reliable than newcomers Maybin and Espinosa. Espinosa has pop but is allergic to reaching base, and Maybin is an underwhelming offensive weapon.
Trout and Pujols alone will provide fireworks in Anaheim. If their supporting cast reaches spiring heights, then the Angels will harken to their 2014 zenith.
17 New York Yankees
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.20 (22nd)
Key Lineup Additions: Matt Holliday
This ranking will seem too high in retrospect if Gary Sanchez fizzles. If the dynamic catcher carries his 2016 glory into 2017, then the Bombers will be fine.
In 201 at-bats, Sanchez smashed 20 homers with an OPS north of 1.000--we’re talking about historical production.
Surrounding Sanchez in the lineup is a crew of familiar veteran commodities. Ellsbury, Gardner, and Holliday figure to be their usual decent selves. A resurgence for Holliday isn’t farfetched in his new digs at Yankee Stadium.
Castro and Gregorius each hit 20-plus homers in 2016. The Yankees will be content if their middle infield can replicate their offensive clout from last year.
Gregory Bird is a dark horse power provider. Bird missed 2016 with injuries, but he hit 11 bombs in 157 at-bats in 2015. He has enormous power. Bird will assume the starting first base role in the wake of Mark Teixeira’s retirement.
16 Texas Rangers
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.72
Key Lineup Additions: Mike Napoli
Ranking Texas so low might be errant.
Texas had a prosperous offensive campaign in 2016. The Rangers haven’t lost any of their premier batters. The specter of injury and aging looms over the team, though.
On the bright side: Mazara and Odor are very young and have tremendous pop. Odor is a freight train on the basepaths, though the pugnacious infielder lacks Mazara’s plate discipline. Both should continue to improve and be valuable hitters. Lucroy is positioned to have a standout season.
On the pessimistic side: Carlos Gomez hasn’t been good for years, yet he’s expected to bat leadoff and rally the team. Joey Gallo hasn’t proven he can hit a volleyball with an oar; let alone MLB pitching. Choo has glimmered at times with Texas with his patient approach, but he’s been inconsistent and brittle. He’s also pushing on his mid-thirties.
Adrian Beltre is a Cooperstown-worthy athlete--both his craft as a player and his merry attitude are laudable. Like Choo, though, Beltre is overdue for a serious decline. The iconic third baseman has been in the majors since the year 19 freakin’ 99.
Furthermore, Napoli could be a productive mid-lineup RBI supplier, or the 35-year-old could easily misfire and succumb to seniority. He had an anomalously good 2016. No one is safe from decline.
Unless there’s some fountain of youth in Arlington I’m not privy to, Beltre, Choo, Napoli, and Gomez are subject to the pitfalls of aging and wear. If not this year, then they’ll start declining soon; though the Rangers could have a rampant offensive outpour in 2017 if age and frailty don’t end up being factors. In that case, again, this ranking will be way too low in hindsight.
15 Los Angeles Dodgers
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.48
Key Lineup Additions: Logan Forsythe
Though L.A’s pitching is primarily responsible for lifting the team to the NLCS last season, the Dodgers’ offense was good. Their lineup may be even better in 2017.
Corey Seager’s potential seems boundless after last season’s Rookie of the Year effort; wherein he hit 26 HR with an .824 OPS. Joc Pederson showed improvement in making contact--his BA improved by .36 points from his rookie year.
Forsythe is an improvement over Utley, who will be nicely utilized off the bench. Andrew Toles is poised to sparkle in a full-time role after igniting the Dodgers down the stretch with his quick bat.
While Gonzalez and Turner may decline or maintain stasis, the inscrutable Yasiel Puig has another chance to stake his preeminence and shake his nitpickers--we all know his talent is there. He’s still young enough to show us something new.
14 Pittsburgh Pirates
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.50
Key Lineup Additions: None
The Pirates mustered an above average offense in 2016 despite health issues and Andrew McCutcheon’s declined productivity. Assuming the Bucks can stay healthy, their offense will be formidable in 2017.
Last year, Pittsburgh ranked fourth league-wide in OBP (.332), but they ended up 26th in home runs. A full campaign from Jung Ho Kang and a return to previous power hitting trends from standout Starling Marte would round out Pittsburgh’s offense with the punch they need--they already boast speed and plate discipline, but a power resurgence will complete them.
Prospect Josh Bell is portended to blossom as the Pirates’ primary first baseman this season. The 23-year-old yielded an OBP of .368 and cashed in 19 RBI in 45 games last year.
13 Toronto Blue Jays
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.69
Key Lineup Additions: Kendrys Morales
Kendrys Morales, who hit 30 bombs in 2016, is a solid producer. He’s just not of Edwin Encarnacion’s caliber.
Encarnacion’s exit from Toronto will dampen the Blue Jays’ offense, but the Jays remain dangerous. Toronto’s 1-5 of Travis, Tulowitzki, Donaldson, Bautista, and Morales can be as capable as any top of the order in baseball--granted Travis will have to stay healthy; and Bautista and Tulo will have to buck their seeming trends of decline. Tulo’s not old enough to have an excuse.
The Blue Jays ranked fourth in home runs in 2016 and ninth in OPS. Encarnacion’s 42 homers and .886 OPS were crucial for Toronto. However, if the team performs to their peak ability, the Blue Jays will be able to pick up the pieces left by Encarnacion. Their lineup has depth with Martin and Smoak batting beneath their radiant top, and Travis is capable of becoming a premier sparkplug for his team’s sluggers.
12 San Francisco Giants
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.41 (19th)
Key Lineup Additions: None
As constituted, The Giants aren’t a slugging team: San Francisco ranked 28th in homers last year and 25th in SLG. They got on base plenty (the Giants were 7th in OBP), but they were unable to cash in runs consistently.
Injuries and odd under-performances plagued SF in 2016. Expect the Giant’s power numbers to rise in 2017, thereby making their offense more effective than pesky.
No Giant hit more than 20 home runs last year, despite Posey, Pence, Crawford, and Belt possessing proven MLB power. Playing in the cavernous dimensions of AT&T Ballpark isn’t conducive to posting gaudy power stats, but the Giants fell short last season even considering their home stadium.
If healthy, Pence, Belt, and of course Buster Posey are expected to crack 15-plus homers and reach base at an elite rate this season. Added to the mix: Eduardo Nunez posted a BA of .288 with 16 bombs in 2016.
The Giants have a deep, disciplined, veteran lineup that’s capable of powering SF to success. They’ll need a healthy collective effort to go far.
11 Detroit Tigers
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.66
Key Lineup Additions: None
Detroit’s lineup this season is more-or-less the same as it was in 2016. The Tigers ranked top-ten in OPS and home runs last year despite a miserable early slump from Justin Upton and lots of missed games between Castellanos and J.D. Martinez.
Kinsler, Victor Martinez, and superstar Miguel Cabrera are contending with age, but none of them lost their edge in 2016. The battle-wise trio hit 93 homers combined last season and slashed better than .290 between them.
When will we see a pronounced decline in Detroit’s veterans? Withering is inevitable. Maybe 2017 will mark their downfall. Maybe not.
Even if the Tigers’ veterans stagnate, Upton, Castellanos, and J.D. Martinez are qualified to make up for slackness--all three are in their twenties and are proven high-output batters.
10 Baltimore Orioles
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.59
Key Lineup Additions: Wellington Castillo
The Orioles pummeled the league with long balls last season--Baltimore led MLB with 253 homers, 28 more than St. Louis. Their problem was not getting enough men on base to yield a bountiful profit from their home runs: The O’s were 21st in OBP.
Hyun Soo Kim will get more playing time this season, and his ability to get on base should be a windfall for Baltimore. The South Korean raked for a .302 BA and .382 OBP in 305 at-bats last year.
Expect the usual slugging from Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and Adam Jones. If these veterans can manage to draw more walks in addition to dropping bombs, Baltimore’s offense will fulminate.
It’ll be cool to see the extent of Manny Machado’s potential; he was marvelous in 2016 despite drawing way fewer walks than he did a year prior. Young masher Jonathan Schoop could be primed for a breakout season himself.
9 Seattle Mariners
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.74
Key Lineup Additions: Jarrod Dyson, Jean Segura
Taking many by surprise, Seattle paraded one of MLB’s most effective offenses in 2016. Their core of Cano, Cruz, and Seager supplied power and deft base-reaching skills.
Some Mariners may fail to surpass their 2016 output, but Seattle’s front office made prudent moves this off-season to ensure that their lineup remains brisk.
Let’s start with Dyson: He’s a swift center fielder with wicked cunning on the basepaths and a good eye. Dyson posted a .340 OBP and swiped 30 bases for the Royals last year. If he protracts that proficiency for Seattle, Dyson will be a first-class table setter for the Mariners’ big three.
Trading for Segura further bolstered Seattle’s lineup. Though he came at the price of promising SP Taijuan Walker, Segura is worth the cost--the 27-year-old shortstop sparkled in Arizona last year. His 2016 stat line: .319 BA, 20 HR, 33 SB, .368 OBP, .867 OPS.
With Dyson and Segura spearheading the Mariners’ lusty lineup, Seattle could have a booming offensive year despite playing at the Grand Canyon...I mean SafeCo field.
8 Arizona Diamondbacks
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.64
Key Lineup Additions: Ketel Marte, Chris Iannetta
A pair of Arizona’s best players--A.J. Pollock and David Peralta--missed a majority of 2016 due to injuries. With their strapping outfield tandem back in action, the Diamondbacks’ lineup packs walloping potential this season.
Jake Lamb and Yasmany Tomas both surfaced as serious power hitters in the desert last year; combining for 60 homers. The young bruisers did well to protect Paul Goldschmidt, who continued his excellence despite a decline in power numbers.
None of Arizona’s throng of bruising batters is older than 29. Not only have they all proven to be capable, but their youth promises room for growth.
Reintroducing Pollock’s five-tool pedigree and Peralta’s gifted slashing to Arizona’s lineup will be huge--Arizona’s offense has combustible ingredients in 2017. The D’backs will especially flourish if newly acquired prospect Ketel Marte finds his way as a MLB fixture.
7 Washington Nationals
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.71
Key Lineup Additions: Adam Eaton, Matt Wieters
Washington didn’t make the splashiest off-season moves, but their tried offensive unit hardly needed an overhaul.
Bryce Harper regressed in 2016, but storybook performances from Daniel Murphy and super-rookie Trea Turner made the Nats an intimidating offensive force last year--both Murphy and Tuner hit over .340 with .900-plus OPS.
Eaton’s proclivities to get on base make him a fantastic addition for the Nats, who will rely on Eaton to get on ahead of the lineup’s molten core of Turner, Harper, and Murphy. Werth, Zimmerman, and Wieters make a dandy veteran back end for Washington’s beaming young lineup.
Even if Murphy recedes, Harper is bound to find his stride again. Turner, furthermore, could emerge as one of the league’s best overall players. The ceiling for Washington’s offense is towering.
6 Houston Astros
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.47
Key Lineup Additions: Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick, Nori Aoki, Brian McCann
This off-season, Houston infused their blooming roster with a heap of long-serving MLB standouts.
At the plate, the Astros’ homegrown saplings thrived in 2016. Altuve won the batting title and flashed five-tool handiness; Correa continued to be an auspicious weapon despite his youth; Springer hit a career-high 29 homers, and Alex Bregman assumed the third base role with veteran tact upon his mid-season call up. All four were great, but stand to improve.
Adding Aoki, Reddick, McCann, and especially the ageless Carlos Beltran to the fray not only improves Houston’s prospective production in 2017, but these veterans will provide buoyancy and guidance to the team.
The ‘Stros gallop into 2017 with a deep, experienced assortment of outstanding hitters.
5 St. Louis Cardinals
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.51
Key Lineup Additions: Dexter Fowler
Drubbing opposing pitchers with home runs was a hallmark for the 2016 Cardinals--St. Louis finished 2nd in MLB in round-trippers. The club also managed to reach base at an above-average rate. Despite losing sluggers Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss, the team’s offensive outlook remains peachy.
Aledmys Diaz and Stephen Piscotty flowered into eminence last season. Each showed 25-plus homer promise, while both put forth .800-plus OPS seasons.
Diaz cranked 17 home runs in just 400 at-bats. Piscotty hit 22 over the wall and drove in 85 runs. Another promising crusher is Randal Grichuk, who flexed his power with 24 home runs last year--granted he lacks the polish of Diaz and Piscotty. Regardless, with these three burgeoning batters at the Cardinals’ core, the future looks rosy.
Carpenter, Peralta, and long-time Cardinal Yadier Molina are ballasts; their combined skills and veteran poise will serve the team well. Molina hit over .300 in 2016 while Carpenter’s OPS soared to .885, so decline isn’t imminent.
Fowler, with his speed, gap-happy swing, and plate discipline is a strict upgrade for St. Louis. Fowler has proven to be an invaluable offensive usher thanks to his acute eye: He’ll reliably get on base for his teammates to drive him home.
4 Chicago Cubs
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.99
Key Lineup Additions: None
The reigning champs lost Dexter Fowler and his mastery at kindling offense, but the Cubs are no worse after Fowler’s departure. Zobrist is capable of batting leadoff, and Kyle Schwarber’s offensive value will mitigate Fowler’s absence.
It’s easy to forget that Chicago ventured without Schwarber last season. Even without Schwarber’s power, the Cubs ranked top-ten in SLG and top-three in OPS. The Cubbies, after many decades of misery, now flaunt an embarrassment of young riches.
Bryant and Rizzo will continue to be MLB’s best 3-4 punch. The duo hit 71 home runs between them last season, while Bryant won the NL MVP Award. Schwarber, healthy and itching to play, will contend with Rizzo and Bryant for team lead in homers.
Contreras, Russell, and Baez were profitable players last season, but they’re expected to become as impactful as Rizzo and Bryant. Baez flashed brilliance in October--that may signal a breakout 2017 campaign.
If all of the Cubs’ young jewels--or even just a few of them--come on strong in 2017, Chicago’s lineup will be the most inscrutable puzzle in MLB for pitchers to contend with. The Cubs are already deep and good, but they also have overt potential to get much, much better with experience.
3 Cleveland Indians
Runs Per Game Last Season: 4.83
Key Lineup Additions: Edwin Encarnacion
The Indians’ blend of power, plate patience, speed, and opportunism bounded them to the doorstep of a championship last season. Then they added Edwin Encarnacion this winter. Seems fair.
Cleveland ranked highly in almost every offensive category in 2016, but not home runs (18th). Encarnacion will amend that problem in 2017. Last year, the stalwart third baseman jacked 42 home runs for Toronto.
Speaking of power, Carlos Santana should continue providing homers and walks for the defending AL champs, and Lindor’s slugging output is liable to continue trending up.
The Tribe lost Rajai Davis to Oakland, but they still have the tools to enact bedlam on the basepaths as they did to great success last year. Lindor, Kipnis, Ramirez, and Naquin are all swift and studied runners in addition to being astute hitters.
Michael Brantley, who not long ago was considered Cleveland’s franchise player, is slated to return to a regular role after missing almost the entire 2016 season. In 2014, Brantley slugged 20 home runs, stole 23 bases, and posted an OPS of .890.
Imagine if Brantley returns to peak form this year--Cleveland will be unbelievably loaded. I mean, they’re already unbelievably loaded, but my goodness...
2 Colorado Rockies
Runs Per Game Last Season: 5.22
Key Lineup Additions: Ian Desmond
The Coors Field factor is real: The Rockies led MLB in runs scored at home last year. Conversely, Colorado was the 22nd most potent offense playing on enemy turf. Still, many of the Rockies’ best players are great regardless of venue.
Colorado’s scoring prowess--contrary to tradition--is more attributable to chaining base hits together rather than racking up homers with ogreish glee.
In 2016, the Rockies ranked top three league-wide in hits, OBP, triples, doubles, and total bases. They were merely tenth in home runs. A full season from Trevor Story will vault Colorado up the HR rankings in 2017.
Nolan Arenado reached a personal apex last season--his 133 RBI, .570 SLG, and .932 OPS were career highs. He hit 41 bombs. The 25-year-old third basemen is the most underrated player in the league.
Or, come to think of it, maybe Arenado’s teammate Charlie Blackmon is the most overlooked player: Colorado’s leadoff man hit 29 homers, stole 17 bags, and hit .324 last season. He’s been raking and stealing bases for years, but I guess Blackmon is veiled by the Rocky Mountains so no one knows he exists.
Ah, perhaps Rockies infielder D.J. LeMahieu is actually the most underrated. The dude won the NL batting title with a sizzling .348 BA, and yet praise is nary showered on him.
People just don’t seem to care about the Rockies, despite how exciting and potent their offense is. Maybe small market dinkiness shrouds Colorado from the national spotlight. Maybe what repels people is that Rockies pitching is perennially hot garbage salvaged from the Denver dump.
Their 2017 squad is fixing to be as fiery as ever (on offense, of course). Trevor Story’s return looms large. Carlos Gonzalez continues to be an exciting franchise keystone. Sophomores David Dahl and Tony Wolters are expected to be prime contributors.
Even if their pitching sucks, and it probably will suck despite potential standouts in Gray and Anderson, the Rockies’ offense is elite and very entertaining to watch.
1 Boston Red Sox
Runs Per Game Last Season: 5.42
Key lineup additions: Mitch Moreland
Let’s acknowledge that Big Papi is gone now, and that his contributions played a major role in conducting Boston’s league-best offense last season. As great and influential as Ortiz was, the Red Sox will continue to tromp the league without him.
All of Boston’s young pieces seemed to click in harmony--Bogaerts, Bradley Jr., and Betts all had breakout seasons in 2016.
Betts stratified himself as a rare, elite multi-threat player. The young outfielder nearly made the 30-30 club while collecting 113 RBI. His OPS hovered around .900 for most of the season.
Bradley Jr. and Bogaerts affirmed their hype with great seasons. Both exceeded 20 homers while maintaining sage plate awareness: They drew lots of walks which added tremendous value to Boston’s offense.
The Red Sox swarm the bases, they don’t just bludgeon their opposition with homers. Boston adopted a credo of plate patience, which guided them to top MLB ranks in OPS, OBP, and hits last year. They were also sixth in walks drawn.
Amid Boston’s youth movement, elders Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez dazzled last year. Neither shows signs of crumbling. Mitch Moreland is liable to thrive at Fenway; using his pull-centric swing to bombard the Pesky Pole area.
Boston’s young core has burst forth but there's still ample space for growth. The team’s veterans, including a healthy Pablo Sandoval, are poised to succeed in 2017. And yet there’s even more to salivate over if you’re a Sox fan: Elite prospect Andrew Benintendi will get his shot as a full-time outfielder. The 22-year-old shined in limited action last year, and he’s expected to make an immediate, loud MLB impact.