2017 Season Preview – National League Central

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Chicago Cubs

2016 Record: 103-58 • 1st NL Central

O/U on Wins: 95.5 • Over

Moving In: P Wade Davis • OF Jon Jay • P Koji Uehara • P Brian Duensing

Moving Out: OF Dexter Fowler • P Aroldis Chapman • P Jason Hammel • P Travis Wood • P Joe Smith • OF Jorge Soler • C David Ross • UT Chris Coghlan • P Travis Cahill

Key Player(s) in 2017: P Jake Arrieta. The 2015 Cy Young winner had another remarkable season in 2016. The Cubs ace went 18-8/3.10/1.08/190/4.2 WAR in 197 innings pitched. Despite those numbers, Arrieta did see an increase in his ERA (3.10 from 1.77 in 2015) and in BB/9 (3.5 from 1.9 in 2015); as well as setting a new career high in walks (76) and wild pitches (16). The emergence of Kyle Hendricks in 2016 helped ease the load off of Arrieta and should give the Cubs a dynamic 1-2 punch heading into 2017. With Arrieta’s contract up at seasons end and the possibility of him hitting the open market in 2018, the Cubs should be looking to negotiate an extension before that happens. Despite their loaded lineup and relatively deep farm system, their pitching depth is shockingly sparse and an injury or two in the rotation could be devastating. Personally, I cannot see the deep pockets of the Cubs ownership NOT opening up their wallets to sign Arrieta to an extension. And that’s said knowing that they have to re-sign Anthony Rizzo too.

Potential Breakout: OF Kyle Schwarber. The C/LF made his MLB debut in 2015 and got into 69 games before the season’s end. In those games, Schwarber hit .246/.842/16/43/1.2 WAR in 232 AB. He was expected to be an integral part to the Cubs heading into 2016 but only managed to get into 2 regular season contests before a collision in the OF left him with torn ligaments in his knee. Despite being sidelined for the next 169 games, Schwarber made it back into the Cubs lineup just in time for the World Series which was good news for the Cubs. In the World Series, Schwarber raked at a clip of .412/.972 and added 2 RBI as the Cubs DH and pinch hitter. Even though he was drafted as a catcher and has spent a considerable amount of time behind the dish during his (brief) professional career, Schwarber’s future might be exclusively as a full time LF; and that’s despite his questionable OF defense. Both his knee injury and the Cubs need(s), as well as having two legit starting C on their roster as it is, could keep him permanently entrenched in LF for the foreseeable future.

Top Prospect: OF Eloy Jimenez • Age: 20 • MLB ETA: 2019

First Round Draft Miss: 3B Josh Vitters (3rd) over C Matt Wieters (5th) in 2007.

Fantasy Stud: 3B Kris Bryant • 2016 Stats: .292/.939/39/102/7.7 WAR in 603 AB

Money’s Man Crush: Everything about Kris Bryant. His bat, his glove, his ability to play multiple positions, his smile, the way he looks like he will tell you “not to worry, everything will be alright.” Really stung to learn that the Blue Jays had drafted him out of high school in the 18th round of the 2010 MLB Draft but he refused to sign, choosing to honour his commitment to the University of San Diego.

2017 Prediction: 1st NL Central

 

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Cincinnati Reds

2016 Record:68-94 • 5th NL Central

O/U on Wins: 73.5 • Under

Moving In: OF Desmond Jennings • P Scott Feldman • OF Arismandy Alcantara • 1B/3B Richie Shaffer • OF Gabriel Guerrero • P Tyrell Jenkins

Moving Out: P Alfredo Simon • P Ross Ohlendorff • P John Lamb

Key Player(s) in 2017: OF Billy Hamilton. Blistering speed, superb defense, and as of 2016, finally showing some patience at the plate. Everybody in baseball knows that Hamilton can run like the wind, unfortunately for both him and the Reds, his inability to get on base regularly all but made his speed a moot point. The old adage of “you can’t steal first base” definitely applied to Hamilton going into 2016 but 4th year CF proved us wrong. Hamilton had a solid year for the Reds, hitting for .260/.664/3/17 and 58 SB; his OBP of .321 was also a career high and the first time in his career that he had broken the.300 plateau. Hamilton needs to prove that he can maintain his newly found plate discipline and continue to get on base more regularly in order to remain part of the Reds rebuild. If he falters and goes back to his free swinging ways, he could easily find himself on the trade block.

Potential Breakout: 2B Jose Peraza. Appeared to be roadblocked behind Brandon Phillips and Zack Cosart but the trade of Phillips means that Peraza will open the season as the Reds starting 2B. Peraza played in only 72 games but made it count when he was in the lineup. Hit for .324/.762/3/25 and added 21 SB in 241 AB. Sample size OBP of .352 shows that he can be selective at the plate, but his K/BB ratio of 33/7 shows that he does have some free swinging in him. If he is able to keep that in check, Peraza could be one of the few bright spots in Cincinnati this season.

Top Prospect: 3B Nick Senzel • Age: 21 • MLB ETA: 2018

First Round Draft Miss: P Nick Travieso (14th) over P Lucas Giolito (16th) in 2012

Fantasy Stud: 1B Joey Votto • 2016 Stats: .326/.985/29/97/4.0 WAR in 556 AB

Money’s Man Crush: Joey Votto. The consummate professional and perennial recipient of the Tip O’Neil award (best Canadian ballplayer). Even though Votto is getting up their in age (33 at this season’s end) there have been no signs of seeing a slow down or regression. The only thing not to love is his contract, but I am sure that there would be no shortage of suitors if the Reds were to make him available.

2017 Prediction: 5th NL Central

 

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Milwaukee Brewers

2016 Record: 73-89 • 4th NL Central

O/U on Wins: 72.5 • Over

Moving In: 1B Eric Thames • 1B/3B Travis Shaw • C Jett Bandy • P Tommy Milone • 2B Eric Sogard • IF Ivan de Jesus

Moving Out: P Tyler Thornburg • 1B Chris Carter • C Martin Maldanado • P Blaine Boyer

Key Player(s) in 2017: 1B Eric Thames. The former Blue Jays farmhand and Mariner took his trade to Korea once he stopped receiving interest from MLB teams. Luckily for Thames, a move to the KBO might have been the best thing to have happened to his career. In three seasons in Korea, Thames hit for an average stat line of .348/41/127 and even had a 40/40 season in 2015. Sure, playing in the KBO makes those numbers as inflated as Thames’ muscles (seriously though, dude is JACKED!) but that didn’t stop the Brewers from signing him to a 3yr/$16 mil deal to play 1B. The question will be which Thames do the Brewers get? Will it be the dude who straight uo mashed in the far East? Or will it be the guy who .250/.727/21/62 and was a minus WAR player in 633 MLB AB?

Potential Breakout: OF Keon Broxton. The 26yr old OF got into 75 games in 2016 and posted a respectable stat line of .242/.784/9/19/23 SB/2.1 WAR in 207 AB. Broxton was acquired from the Pirates in the 2015 offseason and is looking to establish himself as an everyday player with the Brew Crew in 2017. The (continuing) emergence of Broxton should give the Brewers a solid OF trio as he’ll team up with Domingo Santana and Ryan Braun, and if Braun does in fact get moved, he will be replaced by another young OF prospect in Lewis Brinson.

Top Prospect: OF Lewis Brinson • Age: 22 • MLB ETA: 2017

First Round Draft Miss: P Dylan Covey (14th) over anyone who would sign a contract in 2010.

Fantasy Stud: SS Jonathan Villar • 2016 Stats: .285/.826/19/63/3.9 WAR in 598 AB

Money’s Man Crush: 1980’s powder blue and yellow jersey’s with the MB glove logo. I’d rank the throwback Brewers logo as the best in the (current) MLB over the now defunct Expos.

2017 Prediction: 4th NL Central

 

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Pittsburgh Pirates

2016 Record: 78-83 • 3rd NL Central

O/U on Wins: 85.5 • Over

Moving In: P Daniel Hudson

Moving Out: UT Sean Rodriguez • OF Matt Joyce • P Jeff Locke • P Nefateli Feliz • P Ryan Vogelsong

Key Player(s) in 2017: OF Andrew McCutchen. From 2011 to 2015 the man known simply as “Cutch” was a 5x All Star, 4x Silver Slugger winner, won an NL MVP, finished 3rd twice, 5th once and added one Gold Glove. His average stat line in those five seasons was: .302/.905/25/90/6.4 WAR in 572 AB. But in 2016 all that changed and for the first time in his career, Cutch was a minus WAR player. Injuries were not to blame as he played in 153 games but only put up a meager .256/.766/24/79 in 598 AB. McCutchen’s performance was so alarming that the Pirates actually fielded trade offers for him throughout the offseason. As if that wasn’t enough of a shock, the Pirates asked the former Gold Glove winner to shift from his usual position in CF to RF because of a poor defensive showing in 2016. Although the Pirates are saying the right things, it would be hard for them to justify re-signing him once his contract is up at the end of this season, especially if he has another down season. That being said he does have a team option for 2018 that could see him in Pittsburgh for a swan song or until he is surpassed by top prospect, Austin Meadows.

Potential Breakout: P Jameson Taillon. The former 2nd overall pick in 2010 finally made his MLB debut in 2016 and didn’t disappoint. Taillon made 18 starts in his rookie season and went 5-4/3.38/1.12/85/2.3 WAR in 104 innings. Throughout his career the only thing that has slowed down the hulking right hander has been issues with his durability. If those issues are behind him, Taillon should easily pair up with Gerrit Cole to give the Bucs a solid 1-2 punch atop their rotation. The Pirates will need all their arms to contribute if they have any hope with competing against the Cardinals, let alone the Cubs, for a potential playoff position.

Top Prospect: P Tyler Glasnow • Age:23  • MLB ETA: 2017

First Round Draft Miss: P Daniel Moskos (4th) over C Matt Wieters (5th) in 2007

Fantasy Stud: Starling Marte • 2016 Stats: .311/.818/9/46/47 SB/4.9 WAR in 489 AB

Money’s Man Crush: PNC Park. Hands down the most beautiful park in MLB; although im sure Giants fans will disagree. The whole experience of a weekend game in Pittsburgh is worth the pilgrimage to Pennsylvania. Best view is anywhere in the upper deck behind home or along the 3rd base line. That way you get an incredible vantage point of the Pittsburgh skyline and the Roberto Clemente Bridge; the game being pretty much takes a backseat to the view. The Pirates vintage 70’s and early 90’s throwbacks are pretty decent too.

2017 Prediction: 2nd NL Central

 

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St. Louis Cardinals

2016 Record: 86-76 • 2nd NL Central

O/U on Wins: 87.5 • Under

Moving In: OF Dexter Fowler •P Brett Cecil

Moving Out: 1B/OF Matt Holliday • P Jaime Garcia • 1B/OF Brandon Moss • P Jordan Walden •P Seth Manness

Key Player(s) in 2017: Pitchers Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal. Both players mentioned here are integral parts to any World Series aspirations that the Cardinals might have. They were both All Stars in 2015 and had complete production drop offs in 2016. If it wasn’t for Seung-hwan Oh’s terrific debut (6-3/1.92/.92/103/19 SV in 79.2 innings) the Cardinals would be looking at a closer by committee. That’s because their usual everyday closer (Rosenthal) looked completely lost in 2015. Rosenthal went 2-4/4.46/1.91/56:29 K:BB/14 SV in 40 innings. The biggest reason for his struggles was his lack of control, as Rosenthal set new career highs in BB/9 (6.5) and H/9 (10.7). He will need to regain both his control and his confidence if he hopes to be a key part of the Cardinals bullpen; let alone try to win his closer’s job back. Wacha on the other hand went from 17-7/3.38/1.21/153/3 WAR in 181.1 innings to 7-7/5.09/1.48/114/-0.4 WAR in 138 innings. One reason for his struggles could be attributed to a nagging shoulder injury that has bothered him throughout his career and flared up during 2016. The Cardinals will need Wacha to stay healthy and pitch like he can as their pitching depth is already set to be tested with young, flamethrower, Alex Reyes, out for the season with Tommy John.

Potential Breakout: P Luke Weaver. Originally this spot was going to center on another Cardinals pitching prospect, Alex Reyes. Unfortunately for both Reyes and the Cardinals, Reyes suffered a torn UCL early in spring training and has undergone Tommy John surgery. This is where Weaver enters the picture. In theory, he could fill the tole that was suppose to be Reyes’ and either compete for a spot in the rotation, be a swing man out of the pen or be the first call up from AAA if needed. It’s not like Weaver has come out of nowhere either. He’s a former first round pick (27th in 2014) and enters the season as the Cardinals number two prospect behind only Alex Reyes. Although he may not make the opening day roster, I’d say there is a solid chance that he’ll be up with rhe Cardinals before the all star break.

Top Prospect: P Alex Reyes • Age: 22 • MLB ETA: 2018

First Round Draft Miss: P Chris Lambert (18th) over P Glen Perkins (22) P Phil Hughes (23) in 2004

Fantasy Stud: P Carlos Martinez • 2016 Stats: 16/3.04/1.22/174/5.9 WAR in 196 IP

Money’s Man Crush: The St. Louis organization. Pound for pound the most well ran farm system and team in the game. Well besides the occasional “rogue”scout.

2017 Prediction: 3rd NL Central

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