It’s a sunny 70 degrees in Phoenix, AZ. Birds are singing, bees are buzzing, and in select pockets of Arizona and Florida you can hear the crack of the bat striking a ball – Baseball is back! All your favorite ball players are back in action; knocking off the rust and getting dialed in for season’s start. Let’s take a look at which player on each team has the most to prove this Spring starting with the NL East division..
- Atlanta Braves – While the Braves have two of the buzziest names in MLB ready prospects in Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna, I believe the player to watch this spring is sophomore shortstop Dansby Swanson. Filling his first full MLB season at 23, he was rushed through the minor leagues without being given the extra time to develop that many other players get; and it showed to a tune line of .213/.287/.312. That’s tough to look at, but he ended the year on an upward trend – reaching base safely in 18 of his last 28 games and many of the underlying stats show that his struggles were a mixture of being overmatched by big league breaking balls, and rotten luck. We’ll be watching this spring for adjustments to those breaking balls.
- Miami Marlins – To say that the Marlins new owner Derek Jeter decided to rebuild the organization would be a gross understatement. Having gutted the team of their highest contracts (and greatest talent), Jeter brought in a group of highly touted big league hopefuls – and the prize of this crop of new players looks to be OF Lewis Brinson. The Marlins acquired Brinson from Milwaukee in the trade of Christian Yelich, Brinson hit to a tune of .287 in all his minor league time with 87 homeruns – including hitting .331 with 13 homeruns for AAA Colorado Springs last year before his late-season call up. He is being given a shot to compete for a starting spot this year – against veterans Cameron Maybin, Derek Dietrich, and another young OF Braxton Lee.
- New York Mets – After a year riddled with injuries, the Mets look to be competitive in NL East division with what looks to be the most talented young pitching rotation in baseball and the return of Thor (Noah Syndergaard). While there are plenty of names to watch and players with something to prove in this roster, perhaps the most perplexing is Matt Harvey. By now we all know this guy has all the talent in the world – upper 90’s fastball, and electric stuff; and he has been injury-ridden in his big league career, but to add insult to injury last year he was derailed by his personal life (in my estimation). He was ineffective, his head and heart in the wrong place. This Mets club is watching for a glimpse of the old Matt Harvey, because if he doesn’t show up this spring they will undoubtedly be shopping him to all teams in trade for pennies on the dollar.
- Philidelphia Phillies – This young Phillies team has talent in several pockets. Intriguing pitching, hitting for average, and some serious speed in a couple of positions; but maybe the most exciting young talent is 24 year old Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins busted on the scene last August and got on a torrid homerun tear – hitting 18 in his first 34 games (A rookie-record). Rhys hit only 9 homeruns in his first minor league season, but then he worked with minor league instructors Andy Tract and Frank Cacciatore and something clicked – he cranked 38 bombs in AA in 2016, and 29 in AAA last year before his August call-up. While hitting 18 long balls in 34 games probably won’t be repeated this year, we all are wondering if the power threat is real and will translate to big league stardom. Needless to say, Rhys will have all eyes on him this spring.
- Washington Nationals – Washington is a powerhouse team this year. Vegas has their odds as 7:1 to win it all this year, just behind the Dodgers (5:1) Indians and Astros (both 6:1). They are returning a truck load of veteran players, practically an all-star team: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzales, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner… need I go on? These players are all pretty well tried and true, with only Turner turning in the short resume. A big question mark is the trade they made prior to the start of the 2017 season – giving up their top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito and others for OF Adam Eaton. The fans were unsettled by this trade, and with Eaton going down after just 23 games with a season-ending leg injury these unsettled fans still have questions. I think he has the most to prove this spring, and could possibly make the difference for this Nationals team to go all the way this year.
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