2017 Baseball Preview

Whether you believe Opening Day happens when two teams play on ESPN while your kids are in bed or when your favorite team takes the field on Monday, it’s close enough that we can pretend our yards aren’t coated in evil white dust and dream of baseball.  As I have the past few years, I’d like to celebrate the proximity of baseball by ranking the 100 players I expect to make the biggest impact on their teams’ abilities to win games in 2017.

Rather than boring you with my method, I’ll point you here in case you care and move on to the rankings. I gave honorable mentions to 24 players just outside the top 100, each of whom I have pegged for about 3 wins above replacement in 2017. The group includes one highly touted rookie (Alex Bregman), several rising star pitchers (Kevin Gausman, Jerad Eickhoff, Carlos Rodon, Danny Salazar, Kenta Maeda, Aaron Nola), a few veterans who may have something left in the tank (Ben Zobrist, Troy Tulowitzki, Rich Hill), the game’s best relievers (Andrew Miller, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Edwin Diaz), and a few other guys (Jose Abreu, Joc Pederson, Charlie Blackmon, Jean Segura, Kevin Pillar, Joe Panik, Marcel Ozuna, Yasmani Grandal, and Jordan Zimmermann).

Here are the top 100 in ascending order:

100. DJ LeMaheiu, Rockies- an infielder defending a batting title may seem ranked a little low at number 100, but LeMaheiu’s value is mostly tied up in his batting average, which is unlikely to fly so high again in ’17.
99. Carlos Santana, Cleveland- Who needs a position when you rake like Santana?
98. Jonathan Gray, Rockies
97. Michael Pineda, Yankees
96. Danny Duffy, Royals
95. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays- Four pitchers here with very different profiles.  The last two just helped the USA to their first WBC title, while the first could make a name for himself this year and the second has been on a strange rollercoaster ride his whole career.
94. Cesar Hernandez, Phillies- Among NL second basemen, only Daniel Murphy and Jean Segura were more valuable last year than Hernandez.  He and JP Crawford may well form the middle infield of the next contending team in Philly.
93. Collin McHugh, Astros
92. Julio Teheran, Braves
91. Cole Hamels, Rangers
90. Yu Darvish, Rangers- Another lot of pitchers with little in common, though the last two wear the same uniform.
89. Wil Myers, Padres
88. Todd Frazier, White Sox- Two sluggers whose careers moved in opposite directions in 2016. Both may find themselves in new uniforms by the end of 2017.
87. Andrelton Simmons, Angels- The game’s best defensive player could be a superstar with a little more stick.
86. JT Realmuto, Marlins- If you don’t know this name, you’re not alone.  When I picked him for my WAR-only fantasy team, I almost called him JP before looking him up. At 26, though, he’s one of the game’s best catchers with his bat, glove, and even legs (12 steals in ’16).
85. Aledmys Diaz, Cardinals- Who? Diaz is a 26-year-old shortstop who hit .300 as a rookie last year.
84. Neil Walker, Mets- A veteran second baseman with a solid track record hopes to make a name for himself with a big season in New York.
83. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks- How do you rank a guy who’s been the best pitcher in baseball twice, including two years ago, but was barely worth 2 WAR last year?
82. Dexter Fowler, Cardinals
81. Jason Heyward, Cubs- Two centerfielders who have recently played for both the Cubs and Cardinals, in a couple years we’ll all think they were traded for each other and forget they coexisted on the 2016 Cubs.  Fowler’s game is mostly offense; Heyward’s mostly defense, but you can expect similar overall value this year.
80. Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks- Based on his 8-15 record and 4.90 ERA in 174 innings last year, fans may not expect huge things from Ray in ’17. But his 218 strikeouts make me wonder if he’s about to go all Max Scherzer on us.
79. Chris Davis, Orioles- Dingers and strikeouts, strikeouts and dingers.
78. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals- A rotation that looked as deep as any in 2015 might be down to Martinez and pray for rain this year.
77. Lorenzo Cain, Royals- After looking like one of the game’s best players during the Royals’ two World Series years, Cain came back to Earth with the team last year.  Here’s a guess that 2016 was the real Cain. 
76. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates- This pick has the feel of a devoted fan in denial about an older player’s decline, but I’m hopeful that Cutch has something left to offer.
75. Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays- We’ll learn this season whether Sanchez’s AL ERA title in 2016 was a coming out party or a fluke.
74. Nelson Cruz, Mariners
73. Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland- Two guys who just crush baseballs (and one with an invisible pet parrot).
72. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals- He’s a full-time first baseman now, but he still has the well-rounded game to add value without hitting 30 homers.
71. Michael Fulmer, Tigers- Like Sanchez, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year will try to prove his brilliant 2016 wasn’t a fluke.
70. Jonathan Lucroy, Rangers- With Salvador Perez banged up, Lucroy’s only rival for the title of AL’s best catcher is a rookie you’ll read about a few lines down.
69. Kole Calhoun, Angels- With a career year on offense and defense, he could be the best outfielder the Angels have (outside of center field).
68. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland- The player with baseball’s most generic name will play some second and some third and when the playoffs come, we’ll all have forgotten how good he is. 
67. Trevor Story, Rockies- Dingers and strikeouts, strikeouts and dingers. And all the plays Nolan Arenado somehow can’t get to.
66. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland
65. Chris Archer, Rays
64. Lance McCullers, Astros- If he’s healthy, he could be much better than this. I started to write that about Carrasco before realizing how well it applies to Archer and McCullers as well. None of them is my AL Cy Young pick, but any of them could win it.
63. Jackie Bradley, Red Sox- He’s been streaky with the bat over his short career, but his defense makes him a valuable player even if he hits like today’s Jacoby Ellsbury.
62. Jacob deGrom, Mets- He had his turn as the Mets’ ace. Now he’ll settle in as the number two guy in one of the game’s best rotations.
61. Ender Inciarte, Braves- Even if Dansby Swanson doesn’t break out this year, Inciarte will remind us just how ridiculous the Shelby Miller trade was.
60. David Price, Red Sox- Price’s peripherals were much stronger than his 3.99 ERA in 2016, so he may not be in the steep decline Red Sox fans fear, but a balky elbow might keep him from throwing another 230 innings in ’17.
59. Odubel Herrera, Phillies- Quietly the best player on the Phillies over the past two seasons, Herrera added some power and patience in 2016 and is as well rounded as any NL outfielder.
58. Brandon Belt, Giants- If Beltre and Beltran ever age, Belt should have a brief run as the best baseball player in the world whose surname starts with Belt.
57. Jason Kipnis, Cleveland- He’ll open the season on the DL, but if Kipnis plays most of the season, he’s part of one of the game’s best middle infields.
56. Gerrit Cole, Pirates
55. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
54. Kyle Hendricks, Cubs
53. Rick Porcello, Red Sox- Look, another four pitchers in a row! The last two broke out in a big way in 2016, while Cole struggled and Strasburg had yet another brilliant, but injury-shortened season.
52. George Springer, Astros
51. Dallas Keuchel, Astros- Here are Houston’s best outfielder and pitcher, respectively, but this juggernaut still has two names to come on this list.
50. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox- Like just about every Red Sox hitter, Pedroia hit better than expected in 2016. Even if he falls back a bit, his defense makes him a likely top-50 player.
49. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees- If his arm holds up, there may not be a better pitcher in the American League.
48. Daniel Murphy, Nationals
47. Anthony Rendon, Nationals- The Nationals’ second basemen of the past two seasons, one’s all bat and bigotry, the other has a well-rounded game that gets far less ink.
46. Justin Verlander, Tigers- I left him for dead a few years back, but he bounced back in a big way in 2016 and could contend for the Cy Young again this year.
45. Starling Marte, Pirates- Moving to center field could make Marte even more valuable to the Pirates.
44. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets
43. Justin Turner, Dodgers- The game’s two best free agents this offseason both ended up back with the same team they played for last year. Both teams depend heavily on their offensive production, while Turner’s glove and Cespedes’s arm are assets as well.
42. Evan Longoria, Rays- Would you believe Longo’s still only 31? He hasn’t returned to his MVP-caliber peak since 2010, but he’s added power and remains among the best at the game’s deepest position.
41. Gary Sanchez, Yankees- All we’ve seen Sanchez do is rake.  He could hit a sophomore slump and make this pick look foolish, but if he continues his late-summer ’16 rampage, he could more than justify this ranking.
40. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox- This list is loaded with young shortstops.  This one can hit for average and some power while running well and playing adequate defense.
39. Jon Lester, Cubs- Lester’s 33 and coming off three of the best seasons of his career.  Chicago’s defense should help keep his ERA down even if he shows some signs of age.
38. Trea Turner, Nationals- Another of those young shortstops, there’s no limit to what Turner might do in his first full season in the big leagues.
37. Christian Yelich, Marlins- With all of Giancarlo Stanton’s injuries, Yelich might just be the best outfielder (and thus the best player) on the Marlins.
36. Addison Russell, Cubs- More young shortstops! Here’s another with a brilliant glove and some clout, who will be a superstar if he starts hitting for average.
35. Johnny Cueto, Giants- Cueto didn’t need a change of scenery, but the move to San Francisco didn’t hurt, as he put together what may have been the best season of his career in 2016.
34. Adrian Beltre, Rangers- The way he’s going, in 2037, a 57-year-old Beltre might be 75th on this list.
33. Ian Kinsler, Tigers- Speaking of older players fighting valiantly against father time, Kinsler had his best season yet in 2016 at 33.
32. Adam Eaton, Nationals- Driven by obscene defensive ratings, Eaton was among the AL’s most valuable players in 2016. A move to Washington in 2017 comes with a move to center field, where he’s been more solid than stellar in the past. This rating reflects my belief that his more recent right field numbers tell us more about the center fielder he’ll be than his past center field numbers.
31. Jake Arrieta, Cubs- Like Cain, Arrieta seemed to fly higher than anyone could imagine for two years before settling in as a solid player last year.  Unlike Cain, but like Lester, he’ll benefit from the Cubs’ defense if he struggles in ’17.
30. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays- Eaton and Mookie Betts put up crazy defensive numbers in right field last year, but the game’s best outfielder is the guy who makes all other center fielders look like Hanley Ramirez.
29. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers- The anti-Kevin Kiermaier, Cabrera retains his value even at 33 by continuing to hit the cover off the baseball.
28. Brian Dozier, Twins- This is the year I admit that Brian Dozier is good at baseball.
27. Jose Quintana, White Sox- Is this the year the world admits that Jose Quintana is good at baseball?  If it didn’t happen last year, I doubt it, but Quintana will again be one of baseball’s best pitchers no matter what uniform he wears later in the year.
26. Brandon Crawford, Giants- When Crawford found a bat to match his stellar glove, he became one of the best players on one of the game’s best teams, and could be an MVP contender this year.
25. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins- I can’t think of another player who could hit 499 career home runs and be looked at as an utter disappointment.  It seems that every year, injuries are the only thing keeping Stanton from hitting 50 dingers.
24. Buster Posey, Giants- Here’s the guy that’s been the Giants’ best player throughout their remarkable run.  Even with some signs of age, he’s the league’s best catcher by a huge margin.
23. Robinson Cano, Mariners- Cano seemed DOA when he first got to Seattle, but proved last year that he’s still among the game’s best all-around second basemen.
22. Joey Votto, Reds- Another thirty-something who just keeps mashing.
21. Kyle Seager, Mariners- He’s already the lesser-known Seager brother, but Seager is the best player on a team that should contend in the AL West this year.
20. Madison Bumgarner, Giants- It’s hard to believe the guy who’s won ~56 Wild Card games is still only 27, but here we are.
19. Corey Kluber, Cleveland- He’s the best AL pitcher who won’t have to move to the AL East this year, which probably makes Kluber the Cy Young favorite.
18. Freddie Freeman, Braves- Freeman may have been the NL’s best hitter in 2016. If nothing else, he’s a reason to watch the Braves.
17. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs- This is the sixth Cub we’ve seen on this list, excluding one honorable mention.  And we’re not done.
16. Nolan Arenado, Rockies- Arenado added some patience to his prodigious power and flashy glove in 2016. Short of running the bases well and saving his pitchers’ arms from the terrors of Denver’s altitude, there’s not much he can’t do.
15. Carlos Correa, Astros- Another young AL shortstop and another Astros infielder finish ahead of Correa on this list, but at 22, Correa is younger than both and likely has a trophy or two in his future.
14. Chris Sale, Red Sox- The best pitcher in the AL signs with the Red Sox.  We heard that last year before David Price found himself with a homerun problem and a sore elbow.  Here’s hoping Sale can continue his dominance with different Sox on.
13. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks- 2016 was a bit of a down year for the game’s best first baseman. He’ll bounce back in ’17.
12. Jose Altuve, Astros- The little man added power in 2016 and might just be the best player in his own infield after all.
11. Max Scherzer, Nationals- He now has a Cy Young for each eye color.  Is this the year he adds a championship?
10. Corey Seager, Dodgers- As a rookie, Seager was the second-best player in the National League. I’m guessing we’ll see him duel with Kris Bryant for a few more MVP awards.
9. Bryce Harper, Nationals- Harper’s fWAR the last four years- 3.8, 1.3, 9.5, 3.5.  Your guess as to what comes next is as good as mine, but it seems pretty safe that it’ll be the second-highest number of his young career.
8. Noah Syndergaard, Mets- Thor is a giant of a man with a giant of a fastball and a giant city ready to watch him dominate hitters with the best of them.
7. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland- I called Andrelton Simmons the game’s best defensive player earlier, and I still believe that, but Lindor could approximate Simmons’s defense this year with a much stronger bat.
6. Mookie Betts, Red Sox- It’s hard to imagine Mookie getting any better, but if he adds patience in 2017 the way he added power in 2016, the sky’s the limit of his production.
5. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays- Donaldson’s been the second-most-valuable player in baseball during the Mike Trout years and showed no signs of slowing down at 30 last year.
4. Manny Machado, Orioles- I don’t see the Orioles contending this year, but I can see Machado putting up Troutworthy numbers.
3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers- If not for last year’s injury, the game’s best pitcher would easily occupy the number two slot.
2. Kris Bryant, Cubs- The defending NL MVP is the best player on the game’s best team, can play several positions, and makes ladies swoon with a bat of his eyelashes.  Life must be pretty good.
1. Mike Trout, Angels- Short of making a Trump supporter read a book or folding a fitted sheet, there’s nothing this man can’t do.

 

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One Response to 2017 Baseball Preview

  1. Pingback: 2017 Baseball Preview, Part II | Replacement Level Baseball Blog

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