Opening Day is knocking on the door, and we at M-SABR are ready for baseball’s return! Having previewed all 30 teams, it is time for some predictions. Today, we’ve got staff picks for individual end of season awards.
Sahil Shah: Christian Yelich
If you asked anyone which former Miami Marlins outfielder is most likely to win a Most Valuable Player Award next year, I bet a lot of them would say Giancarlo Stanton. After all, he won the NL MVP last year after blasting a league-leading 59 HRs and 132 RBIs and is moving to hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. A lot of people would also probably guess Marcell Ozuna based on his spectacular performance in 2017, leading the Marlins in batting average and on base percentage. A few nostalgic fans might even put their money on ageless wonder Ichiro Suzuki (I’m kidding… maybe).
However, I’m here to tell you that none of them will win the MVP next year. Introducing next year’s real NL MVP: Christian Yelich.
At first glance, Christian Yelich’s numbers don’t scream MVP. He’s never hit over .300 and has only averaged 12 home runs and 59 RBIs during his first 5 major league seasons. However, Yelich has a number of factors going in his favor. He is just entering his prime at age 26 and has seen his numbers steadily improve over the past few seasons. In 2017, he slugged .391 at pitcher friendly Marlins Park, compared to .484 in road games. The move to the hitter-friendly Miller Park will help his power numbers dramatically and make him a 30 HR threat for the Brewers next season. In addition, he is projected to bat near the top of the lineup in a star-studded lineup including OF Lorenzo Cain, 3B Travis Shaw, and OF Ryan Braun, which should provide him plenty of RBI and run-scoring opportunities. Lastly, moving from the laughing stock of the NL East (and all of baseball… let’s be honest) to a young, exciting playoff contender in Milwaukee will give him extra motivation to put out an amazing season for the Brewers. While he may not be a household name like Stanton or Ozuna, Christian Yelich is poised for a breakout season and is my pick for NL MVP.
Max Smith: Corey Seager
Full disclosure: I fully hope that Bryce Harper discovers his 2015 and early 2017 form and puts on another Bonds-ian show that leaves jaws around the nation agape, admiring long-gone bombs in every park Bryce travels to. Yet in the interest of not only a hopeful reverse jinx but also given serious questions about Harper’s durability, I am siding with consistency, potential and proven elite production at a premium position—also known as Corey Seager.
Since the start of his rookie season in 2016, “Kyle’s Brother” has compiled 13.1 fWAR, trailing only Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve and Mookie Betts in all of Major League Baseball. And while the majority of that came during a preposterous 7.4 fWAR rookie season in 2016, Seager continued to dominate while demonstrating key improvements this past season. His walk rate rose from 7.9% to 10.9% (increasing his OBP by 10 points despite a small dip in batting average), and his Hard Hit % of 44.0% was not only a 4.3% improvement from 2016, but placed him fourth in all of Major League Baseball.
As Seager becomes more selective at the plate and improves the contact he makes, 2018 is the year he turns his rookie year third place finish into the first MVP of his own.
Matthew Kikkert: Nolan Arenado
There’s really not too much to say on this one, other than that it’s due. Over the past 3 seasons, Arenado has averaged 40 homeruns and 131 RBIs, while consistently increasing his finish in the MVP voting each year. In his 27-year-old season, Arenado finally fully breaks out (if you can even call it that at this point), setting career high numbers in WAR, home runs, RBIs, and batting average, maybe even contending for the first NL Triple Crown in 81 years. While dominating at the plate, he locks down the hot corner once again and wins his sixth consecutive gold glove (one for each year in the league), winning the MVP and playing the key role that helps bring back Rocktober for a second consecutive year.
Max Brill: Freddie Freeman
Am I silly for picking Freeman over guys like Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, and Paul Goldschmidt? Possibly, but Freeman taking home the hardware at the end of the year is a lot less far-fetched than you might initially think. Last season Freeman missed about 45 games due to injury and still hit .307/.403/.586 with 28 home runs. Freeman has triple-slashed .304/.401/.576 since the start of 2016. Only one hitter in the league has bested each part of that triple-slash since the start of 2016 and his name is Michael Nelson Trout. This is a comprehensive list of (qualified) players who have a higher wRC+ than Freeman since the start of 2016: Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Aaron Judge, Jose Altuve, J.D. Martinez, and Josh Donaldson (David Ortiz too but he does not play baseball anymore). I could keep listing off elite stats of Freeman’s, but I’ll stop there and just remind you that he is one of the premier hitters in baseball right now and does not get a lot of love for it.
Max Baer: Joey Votto
With Giancarlo Stanton out of his way, nothing can stop Joey Votto from world domination (or at least an NL MVP award). Some might say that Votto got screwed by the voters last season, but it was truly a neck-and-neck race and either of the two could have won the award. On the surface it may not seem like Stanton and Votto have much in common. One is a strong and powerful slugging outfielder and the other is a patient and thoughtful first baseman, but they do have one thing in common: they were both the offensive leaders on non-playoff teams in the National League. While Stanton’s team was trending in the wrong direction, eventually trading him to the Yankees this off season, Votto can look forward to the future. With all the pieces around him constantly improving, Votto seems set to lead this young team with his veteran presence and offensive prowess. And that’s what your most valuable player is supposed to do, right?
Another popular take out there is that the 34-year-old Canadian will decline in the 2018 season, but his past statistics say otherwise. Votto astonishingly walked in 19% of his plate appearances and struck out in only 11.7% of his at-bats. This combination lead to Votto leading all of the major leagues with a .454 OBP, almost 15 points higher than his next closest competitor. And while the low strikeout rate might make Votto seem like a candidate for regression in 2018, he also posted a BABIP of .321, the lowest Votto has had in a season when he plays more than 100 games. With that in mind, expect Votto to have a more normal season with a slightly higher strikeout rate, but also a higher BABIP as he claims his first MVP award since 2010.
Clayton Myers: Willson Contreras
What’s not to love about Willson Contreras, a young, sweet-hitting catcher with a cannon of an arm? Plus, at still just 25 years old, Contreras is only improving. Last year Contreras stroked a .276 batting average with 21 home runs. Yet towards the end of the season especially, Contreras showed the improvement needed to put the 2018 NL MVP within his reach.
The second half last year saw Contreras put up an OBP of .407 in 38 games, and if Contreras can keep that pace for a full season he will shatter last year’s fWAR of 3.2. With a healthy season batting cleanup for a potent Cubs offense, Contreras will drive in a ton of runs, something voters love to see. Another thing old-school voters love to see is an MVP on a playoff team, and I certainly believe the Cubs are once again October-bound.
Despite his success, one of Contreras’ major weaknesses last year was his framing. Having posted an unsightly -147 Plus Calls in 2017, there is plenty of room to improve behind the plate. But with a bounce back to his 2016 pitch framing level of +24 Plus Calls, Contreras will prove to be an elite offensive and defensive catcher. If Contreras comes close to matching second half slash of .305/.407/.586 expect him to the first catcher since Buster Posey in 2012 to carry home an MVP award.
Conor Stemme: Trea Turner
Trea Turner had a great season last year and could have gotten some serious votes for MVP had it not been for Pedro Strop hitting him in the wrist. Through 98 games, Trea Turner had a .284/.338/.451 slash line with 105 wRC+. He was on pace to comfortably beat the counting stats from his rookie season and already had 3 WAR by the end of June. This season, he is at full strength and ready to help the Nationals win the World Series. Not only does he boast great contact and speed, but Turner also provides some deceptive pop from the top of a stacked lineup. Given a full injury-free season, Turner could easily have a .290 average with 80 SB’s and 25 home runs, all while being a solid defender. Basically, Turner is a mix of Jose Altuve’s power, Billy Hamilton’s speed, and with a batting average somewhere in between. Turner is going to be a superstar for years to come, but also an MVP candidate in 2018.
Erik McKeen: Bryce Harper
After following up his historic and unanimous 2015 MVP season (197 wRC+, 9.5 fWAR) with a (by his standards) horrible 2016, Harper was on his way to another MVP season in 2017. He only played 111 games due to injury, but in those games he slashed an impressive .319/.413/.595 to go along with 95 runs, 29 home runs, 87 RBIs, and an fWAR of 4.8. Those four counting statistics extrapolated over 155 games would make for 132 runs, 40 home runs, 121 RBIs, and a 6.7 fWAR. Wow. If not for the injury, he not only would have been squarely in the MVP race, but I believe he would have beaten out Stanton for the award. After losing the NLDS in 5 games for the second straight year, Harper will once again be the key to turning the Nationals into a respectable franchise. Coupling that with his contract year and rumors of $500 million contracts should make for another massive season en route to winning his second MVP award.
Clayton Myers: Jose Ramirez
2017 was the year Jose Ramirez broke out and became a true MVP contender, putting up career highs in nearly every offensive category with a 145 OPS+—good for sixth in the American league. Ramirez was one of the key pieces that led the Cleveland Indians to the best record in the junior circuit and that brilliance was recognized by voters, as he finished third in MVP voting.
Yet at only 25 years old, there is plenty of room left for improvement. In 2018, a weakened AL Central will mean Ramirez gets to feast against weak pitching staffs allowing him to build an impressive offensive stat sheet. Add in an extra year of experience, and it is reasonable to expect an improvement over last season’s 6.6 fWAR campaign. If the line drives keep rocketing off his bat as I expect them to, another season with an OPS higher than .950 is likely. An ideal year for Jose Ramirez in 2018 would involve him slashing around .330/.400/.600, with around 55 doubles and 35 home runs, earning an MVP award and a World Series ring.
Matthew Kikkert: Giancarlo Stanton
Last season, mighty Giancarlo crushed 59 homers, all while playing in the unfriendly confines of Marlins Park. While Marlins Park ranks as 6th most difficult stadium to hit home runs in, according to MLB Park Factors, Yankee Stadium checks in as the 2nd easiest. This move will benefit Stanton and allow him to continue his historic power tear, breaking his number of 59 HRs from last season, going well into 60 HR territory for the year. Mike Trout will all but certainly have another incredible season, but breaking Roger Maris’s HR total of 61 would make a strong case for Stanton to beat out the Melville Meteor and add the AL MVP trophy to the NL MVP trophy already in his cabinet.
Max Brill: Mike Trout
Yeah, it’s boring, but it’s probably going to happen. Last season Trout finished 3rd in AL MVP voting because he only played 114 games as a result of hitting the disabled list for the first time in his career. He was on pace for his best season yet; the 26-year-old put up 33 HR, 22 SB, and 6.9 fWAR in just 507 PA. For reference, nobody else in baseball hit that many homers while also stealing that many bases. Trout also led all of baseball (not just the American League) in OBP, SLG, wRC+, and OPS+ in 2017. He’s hands-down the best player in baseball right now and even though he’s a boring pick for MVP, there really is not anyone else who can match what Trout is doing, especially as the Angels slugger heads into his prime.
Erik McKeen: Carlos Correa
Correa is only 23 years old and has already established himself as one of the best players in the majors. After winning Rookie of the Year, he had a bit of a sophomore slump the year after, but he followed that up with what could have been an MVP caliber season. It was unfortunately cut short due to injury, but in his 109 games last season he had a slash line of .315/.391/.550 (all massive improvements from the year before) along with 82 runs, 24 home runs, 84 RBIs, and a 5.2 fWAR. Over 155 games that would have meant 116 runs, 34 home runs, 119 RBIs, and a 7.4 fWAR. For reference, Jose Altuve’s fWAR last season was 7.5. I fully expect Correa to continue to thrive batting cleanup in one of the best lineups in the majors, if not the best. He will win his first of many MVP awards this season.
NL Cy Young
Clayton Myers: Zack Greinke
3.20 ERA. 3.31 FIP. 215 K. All while pitching in the third most hitter-friendly ballpark in the Majors. Those numbers helped Greinke place an impressive 4th in NL Cy Young voting in 2017. And while we at M-SABR usually try to look at all sorts of advanced stats and underlying numbers, I’ve got some much more unorthodox good news for Greinke: Chase Field installed a brand-new humidifier for 2018. Now what does that mean exactly?
The only other ballpark to install a humidor was Coors Field after the 2002 season. The 2003 season saw the Rockies pitching staff lower their team era by .37. To make things better for Greinke and the rest of the Diamondbacks pitching staff, the humidor is supposed to have an even greater effect in Arizona. Because the air is drier in Phoenix than Denver, this change is expected to drop home run production by around 37%, which is quite a bit larger than the 25% rate at Coors. As for Greinke, he allowed 1.16 HR/9 at home last season and still managed to keep a 2.87 ERA split, so if all goes to plan that home ERA will drop below 2.00 bringing his total ERA to around 2.60, right in the range for a Cy Young contender.
Even with Greinke set to miss time to start the season, he will be the ace on one of the best rotations in the majors, and with the Diamondbacks expected to be contending this year, Greinke will be racking up wins—a stat the voters love to see, even if it ruffles some M-SABR staff feathers. Greinke’s 2018 Cy Young campaign will end with him winning 18 games, a 2.60 ERA, 225 strikeouts, and a trip to the Wild Card Game.
Max Brill: Noah Syndegaard
I wanted to get some Mets homerism into this article without being too ridiculous—say picking Matt Harvey for Comeback Player of the Year. Syndergaard had a 2.97 ERA, 1.055 WHIP, and 11.33 K/BB ratio in 2017 before going down with an injury that sidelined him for a majority of the season. 30.1 innings is not an adequate sample size from which to draw any meaningful conclusions, but Thor’s performance in 2017 was not out of nowhere; he threw 183.2 innings in 2016 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.149 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and MLB-low 2.29 FIP (and somehow still got eighth in Cy Young voting???), so he has an established track record of success. Thor is fully healthy entering 2018 and he looks as good as he ever has to this point in Spring Training (striking out 23 batters in 20 innings with a 1.35 ERA). The track record is there, the pedigree is there, and the hair is there, so Syndergaard is my (100% unbiased) pick for NL Cy.
Max Smith: Stephen Strasburg
To anybody who did not begin watching baseball until August of last year, and has not followed the entirety of Stephen Strasburg’s up and down career that has never fully lived up to the “Best Pitching Prospect of this Generation” hype, this award race isn’t even close. After a brief DL stint, Strasburg finished 2017 in style, to the tune of 0.84 ERA and two absolutely dominant NLCS starts (both 7.0 IP, with a combined 22 strikeouts and 0 earned runs). Even to those who watched all of last year though, his 2.52 ERA, 10.75 K/9 and career-low 8.7% HR/FB rate should hardly make seeing Strasburg put it all together in 2018 and winning his first NL Cy Young a surprise. Count me amongst the believers!
AL Cy Young
Zane Harding: Justin Verlander
First and foremost, I want to point out that Justin Verlander is the modern-day Nolan Ryan, having posted more than 200 IP every year since 2007 except for 2015. Now, your response to this may be, “Nolan Ryan never won a Cy Young!” You’re right. Justin Verlander has one, but should have two (Rick Porcello is #notmycyyoung) and maybe even three (looking at you, David Price)! Justin Verlander, straight up, is the man, and he is due for a huge year in Houston. He posted an insane 1.95 ERA in the second half of 2017, the second straight year he had a spectacular second half after a below-average first half. Guess what? Verlander is about to put it together for an entire season, and when he does, he is taking home the Cy Young. Remember: opponents had a .173 AVG against Verlander in the second half of 2017 and a .179 AVG in the second half of 2016. He has the defense behind him to pad the traditional stats with Altuve and Correa, and he’s past due. JV for Cy Young.
Max Baer: Chris Sale
If there is one man to dethrone the reigning AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, it would be Chris Sale. One of the most dominant pitchers in recent memory, Sale has been an All-Star every year since 2012, and he’s finished in the top-5 in the Cy Young voting in all but one of those years. Moreover, Sale had an incredible 2017, tossing over 300, yes, 300 strikeouts last season while leading the AL in innings pitched. Chris Sale undoubtedly carried the faltering Red Sox rotation at throughout a year in which he once again looked liked an undisputable ace, and there’s no reason to believe the 28-year-old is in line to regress in 2018. Besides the otherworldly rate at which he was striking out batters, Sale posted a WHIP of .97 and a FIP of 2.45, career lows in both categories. Sale also threw a higher percentage of breaking pitches than he ever has in his career, and that led to his fastball being one of his most valuable pitches. Fangraphs rated his fastball, which he threw 8% less than in 2016, as a whole 28 runs above league average. And after Sale saw his average fastball velocity dip in 2016 by more than one MPH, it climbed back up to its normal value of around 95 MPH. This combination of fastballs and sliders proved to be extremely successful for Sale in 2017, and it will carry over into 2018 as he fully enters the prime of his career.
Sale deploys a highly unorthodox pitching style, to say the least. If pitchers style’s could be compared to genres of music, Chris Sale would be the Dubstep of pitching styles. He uses all 6’6 and 180 pounds of his long, spindly frame to generate momentum when he delivers a pitch, confusing and deafening the batter with a cacophony of long and slender arms and legs flying around in every direction until a ball shoots out of the left hand of the whirling tempest that is Chris Sale. More often than not, this usually results in the batter failing to do the job that he was tasked with: hitting the ball. While Sale’s style maybe be erratic, the results are definitely not, and 2018 will be his year to win the Cy Young.
Max Brill: Luis Severino
Severino finished third in Cy Young voting in 2017, so a Cy Young win for him this year is not out of the question. This is especially true given that Severino has another year of MLB experience under his belt. The young right-hander threw 193.1 innings of 2.98 ERA, 1.04 WHIP ball in 2017 and is the ace of the Yankees staff heading into this upcoming season. He also managed to get a boost of over 5% in his ground ball rate last season which will help him maintain his success in the coming seasons. Corey Kluber of the Indians and Chris Sale of the Red Sox are formidable competitors, but I think Severino has the goods to come away with the title.
Cam Cain: Corey Kluber
Corey Kluber is the best pitcher in the American League. Over the past 4 seasons, he leads all pitchers in the league in innings pitched, ERA, FIP, and WAR. 2017 may have been his best season yet. In 29 starts, Kluber put up a career-best 2.25 ERA while generating over 20% more soft contact than in 2016. This helped him become the only pitcher in the majors last year to average 7 IP per start. Oh yeah, and he won his second Cy Young Award last year. How did he do it? He threw much less of his four-seamer and sinker, both pitches that graded out well below average in 2016. In turn, we saw significantly more of his curveball, which may be the single best pitch in baseball. Already a great pitcher, Kluber has shown willingness to make adjustments to his game. He should once again be the frontrunner for this award.
NL Rookie of the Year
Max Brill: Jesse Winker
No, not Ronald Acuña, and no, not Nick Senzel. Instead, it will be Senzel’s teammate, Jesse Winker, who will win the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Winker has quietly mashed in the minor leagues and very quietly mashed in the major leagues last season during his cup of coffee. Winker hit .298/.398/.449 hitter with an unimpressive 56 HR over 2438 minor league PA (six seasons). After coming to the bigs last season, though, the 24-year-old found his power stroke and knocked 7 long balls in just 137 PA. He also triple-slashed .298/.375/.529 with a 10.9% walk rate and 17.5% strikeout rate, both impressive for a youngster. Acuña and Senzel will both probably be good in 2018, but Winker is going to be better.
Cam Cain: Alex Verdugo
The Dodgers have always had a knack for getting great performances from rookies. In addition to Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger winning the award the past two seasons, the Dodgers had five consecutive NL Rookies of the Year from 1992 to 1996. This year, they have yet another rookie who is capable. Alex Verdugo struggled in his short stint in the majors last year, but he will definitely be back this year. Unlike Bellinger, Verdugo is not much of a power hitter, but he did reach base at a .389 clip in AAA last year, while walking more than he struck out. He was very impressive in spring training, hitting .324 and slugging a surprising .618 in 18 games. If (when) he wrestles a starting outfield spot away from Matt Kemp, Verdugo could break out in 2018.
Theo Mackie: Ronald Acuna
This is not the boldest of predictions, but I’ve been seeing a lot of NL ROY of the year votes for guys like Lewis Brinson or Victor Robles. Nothing against those players, because I see both becoming solid big leaguers, but Acuna is the best prospect since the 2012 class that included Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Shohei Ohtani aside, he is the unanimous number 1 prospect across Baseball America, MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, and Keith Law. This time next year, that will no longer be the case because he will have five months of tearing up major league pitching under his belt. He is only 20 years old but don’t be fooled, the Braves optioning him to triple-A to start the year is just a less publicized implementation of the ‘Kris Bryant’ service time rule. Acuna has gotten better at every single level, going from a .287 batting average at high-A to .326 at double-A to .344 at triple-A last year.
He is the rare true five-tool player, the most well-rounded prospect since Trout. He has plus fielding both at center field and in the corners with a plus-plus arm and elite speed that helped him nab 44 bases across the minors last year. At 20, his power is still developing but he hit 21 homers a year ago and could become a 30 homer guy as he grows into his 6-0 frame. It seems as if the only question surrounding Acuna is whether his breakout will come this season or the next but his spring training suggests it will occur within a matter of weeks. In 44 at-bats, he slugged 4 home runs and hit .432. Yes, it’s just spring training and the level of competition he was facing is more like what he’ll see in triple-A than in the bigs but it would be hard to do much better than Acuna did and a month from now, he’ll be doing it in major league ballparks around the country.
AL Rookie of the Year
Zane Harding: Willy Adames
It’s story time.
On Sunday, March 25, 2018, at 8:00 PM, M-SABR began its fantasy baseball dynasty draft. Of course, my phenomenal co-president Max Smith and I are co-owning a team named the Executive Batting Order, and of course we had to make the flashy pick and take SP/DH/Japanese Babe Ruth Shohei Ohtani. And yes, we bragged about that pick all six-and-a-half hours of the 40-round draft.
But wait. I’m not picking Shohei Ohtani.
Willy Adames is my pick, and yes, he’s on our squad, as well.
Willy Adames is a stud, through and through. When he was dealt to Tampa in the David Price deal with Detroit back in 2014, he was not even considered a Top 20 prospect in the Tigers laughably weak farm system. And yet today, he is number one in the Rays farm system, which is always interesting. Adames has the potential to hit 15 home runs, has a very good eye, and is able to field shortstop (but will likely play second base until Adeiny Hechavarria makes room for him). This is definitely a dark-horse pick, but I am predicting Adames to have a power surge upon hitting the majors around May or June and to win AL Rookie of the Year over Ohtani. And besides, some would argue that Ohtani does not deserve to win Rookie of the Year as a man with years of professional experience. Here’s to Willy Adames continuously beating the odds.
Max Smith: Shohei Ohtani
Whether he wins it for his bat or his pitching (and yes I know it would almost certainly be for his pitching), the fact that I can even consider posing that question is what makes Shohei Ohtani not only the most fascinating player in all of baseball in 2018, but also my pick for AL Rookie of the Year.
I mentioned this in the M-SABR Angels season preview, but looking at Ohtani’s numbers from his last full season for the incredibly named Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at age 21, and Yu Darvish’s age 21 season in 2008 for the Ham Fighters, the resemblance—offensive stats aside—is uncanny. If anything, Ohtani was a bit better, here look for yourselves:
Ohtani: 1.86 ERA, .957 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Darvish: 1.97 ERA, .897 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 2.0 BB/9
Unlike Darvish, who spent three more years dominating NPB hitters, Ohtani believed he was ready to test himself abroad even sooner and turned down hundreds of millions of potential dollars on an open market to compete at the highest level for the Angels of Anaheim. Also unlike Darvish, Ohtani does not have to compete with the otherworldly Mike Trout, and his simply ludicrous .326/.399/.564, 30 HR, 49 SB, 10.3 fWAR 2012 stat line, for the Rookie of the Year award, but is instead teaming up with the Melville Meteor for what I believe is going to be a successful quest for an AL Wild Card Berth. Something close to Darvish’s 3.29 FIP, 10.4 K/9, 4.5 fWAR rookie season, and literally anything he additionally does with his bat should carry Ohtani into both our hearts and to the AL Rookie Crown!
Sahil Shah: Austin Hays
On the surface, 2018 looks like it will be a depressing year for the Baltimore Orioles. With Manny Machado unlikely to sign a contract extension before hitting free agency following the 2018 season, most people expected the Orioles to either trade their star infielder and begin rebuilding or to go all in for one last championship run in 2018. Instead, the Orioles largely sat on the sideline for most of the offseason while the Yankees and Red Sox added star outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez to their star-studded rosters. So is there any hope for the Baltimore Orioles this season?
Yes, there is actually, thanks to my AL Rookie of the Year pick, Austin Hays.
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2016 MLB draft out of Jacksonville University, Austin Hays had one of the best seasons of all minor league prospects in 2017, posting a .329/.365/.593 line with 32 HRs and 95 RBIs in 128 games split between Single-A Frederick and Double A-Bowie. To top it off, he became the first player from his draft class to reach the major leagues, posting respectable numbers during a 20 game stint with the Orioles in September. Hays has all the tools to become a successful major league player, with above-average bat speed, a solid power stroke to all fields, an aggressive mentality on the base paths, and a plus arm. While the Orioles recently announced that he will start the year in the minor leagues, he is expected to be called up to the major leagues within the first few weeks of the season and solidify a right field position that has been a revolving door for the team since Nick Markakis departed after the 2014 season. With journeymen Colby Rasmus and Craig Gentry currently projected to start the year in right field, Hays will have no problem getting consistent playing time upon getting called up to the Orioles. Austin Hays is a budding star and will be a fixture in the Orioles outfield for years to come.
Conor Stemme: Michael Kopech
Michael Kopech may start the season in Triple-A, but he should make an immediate impact as soon as he joins the White Sox rotation. He was a major part of the Chris Sale deal and destroyed Double-A last year. He had a 2.87 ERA with 155 strikeouts in 119 innings pitched. As mentioned in my White Sox season preview, Kopech has been clocked at over 110 mph and with this stuff could easily overpower major league batters. He also only allowed 6 home runs proving himself to be a solid ground ball pitcher which should help his ERA. Kopech’s main competition is Japanese Babe Ruth Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani may start the season in Triple-A as well and could struggle to find his stride in America. Both struggled in Spring Training, but Kopech still managed to strike out a batter an inning. Ultimately, Kopech is a hard throwing pitcher who should be a star for the White Sox and is a frontrunner for AL rookie of the year.
Comeback Player of the Year
Matthew Kikkert: Jason Kipnis
While I hate giving any awards to anyone on the Indians, Kipnis will take Comeback Player of the Year Award. After only playing 90 games last year, his lowest since his 2011 rookie season, and hitting a career low .232 batting average, Kipnis rebounds with an average over .300, 20+ homeruns, and 80+ RBIs. Why the optimism? Last year, Kipnis’s BABIP was 58 points below his career average, suggesting his low numbers were partly the result of bad luck. At 31-years-old and in the prime of his career, Kipnis bounces back and helps the Indians on another title push.
Cam Cain: Tim Lincecum
Big Time Timmy Jim is back. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2016, and he hasn’t pitched well in the majors since 2011, but that hasn’t stopped Lincecum from attempting another comeback, this time with the Texas Rangers. He will begin the season on the DL, but Lincecum has a real shot at earning a spot in the Rangers’ bullpen this season. He’s certainly shown he’s motivated to pitch in the big leagues again. If the 33-year-old former ace can pitch 50 innings in the majors this year, he could win this award regardless of how he pitches.
Reliever of the Year
Gregory Severin: Edwin Diaz
I should preface this by saying that as a lifelong Mariners fan, I have absolutely no reason to expect anything good from this team. That being said, if by some miracle anything good did come from this team, it would most likely be from the third-year closer. After becoming the fastest pitcher to reach 50 career strikeouts, Diaz into a few issues early last season which saw his otherworldly 2016 K% diminish to mortal levels and walk rate more than double, Diaz spent the second half of last year and this offseason fixing some mechanics and improving his arsenal. This Spring Training has seen him hit 102 on the radar gun and add a changeup to his repertoire on his way to a respectable 0.692 WHIP. Keep an eye on Diaz, because he could be near-unhittable if he can build on the successes he’s had since last June.
Share your award predictions with us in the comments below!