Posts Tagged ‘Jason Heyward’

bryce-harper

The right field position traditionally has one job, and one job amongst all others: to rake. Some of the most potent power threats in the history of the game have called the right corner of the outfield home, including Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Mel Ott and none other than Babe Ruth himself.

In today’s game, the tradition of the spot being home to some of the most prodigious hitters of the day has stayed true. Today, it is home to a trio of bats that have made 40 homers look like child’s play over the past few years, as well as another group behind them that ceaselessly chases 30 long balls with minimal effort. It is a competitive position that has seen a different player be ranked as the top gun at the spot in each of year that this list has been compiled as well. And if all things remain constant, it should continue to be a difficult one to keep a hold on at the top.

This is due to the fact that beyond just the pure power of the spot, it is also rapidly becoming a position that is home to players that would more traditionally make left or center field their home, due to their mixture of speed, on-base talents and glove work. Remember, right field was also where Tony Gwynn and Ichiro made their names as well, so this is nothing new.

So how does this all shake out headed into 2016? And can the new #1 hold his spot for another year? Let’s see who he is, as well as what the competition looks like along the way.

To review last year’s list, click here.

 

espnapi_dm_140605_mlb_news_carlos_beltran_retunrs_wmain

10. Carlos Beltran, Yankees (Not ranked in 2015)

2015: .276/.337/.471, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 57 runs scored, 34 doubles, 0 Stolen Bases, .808 OPS

Last 3 Years: .272/.327/.459 19 HR, 67 RBI, 61 runs scored, 29 doubles, 2 stolen bases, .787 OPS

The ageless Beltran put to bed any notions that he was over the hill at age 38 last year. After a 2014 debut in pinstripes that saw him be both ineffective at the plate and oft-injured, Beltran picked his numbers back up across the board last season and remained the club’s everyday right fielder. His average improved by over 40 points, and his contact rate improved significantly as well.

While he would be better suited for a DH role at this point in his career and could see more platoon work this year (his dWAR came in a full -2 games impact), Beltran’s offensive offering allows him to remain an asset for the Yanks. He is on pace to surpass 400 career home runs and 2,500 career hits this season, and has indicated that it will not be his last one, despite it being the final year of his Yankee deal.

 

9. Kole Calhoun, Angels (NR in ’15)

2015: .256/.308/.422 26 HR, 83 RBI, 78 runs scored, 23 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .731 OPS

Last 3 Years: .266/.321/.439 17 HR, 58 RBI, 66 runs scored, 20 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .759 OPS

Calhoun followed up his breakout 2014 with another strong campaign last season, firmly settling himself in as one of the more underrated overall corner outfielders in the American League. The 28-year-old has hit 43 home runs over the past two years since getting an opportunity at regular playing time, and has done so while only playing over 150 games once.

What rounds him off most however is his defensive capabilities, which earned him the nod for the AL Gold Glove. Calhoun was good for six defensive runs saved, 11 outfield assists and a 2.30 range factor defending the area, which qualified for the best mark in the league.

 

8. Matt Kemp, Padres (#6 in ’15)

2015: .265/.312/.443 23 HR, 100 RBI, 80 runs scored, 31 doubles, 12 stolen bases, .755 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.328/.459 18 HR, 74 RBI, 64 runs scored, 28 doubles, 10 stolen bases, .786 OPS

Kemp found his stride in the bat-only, corner outfielder portion of his career in his first season as a Padre. He put to bed the concerns about his durability that had plagued him a few years ago, playing in 150 games for the second time in as many years. And one thing that is indisputable about Kemp: when he is healthy, he hits.

Kemp met the 100 RBI mark for the first time since 2011, while topping 20 home runs, 30 doubles and 150 hits for the second consecutive year. He even had a slight re-emergence of speed on the base paths as well, reaching double digits steals for the first time in 5 years as well. Entering only his age-31 season, Kemp stands to continue on the path of being a steady middle of the order bat that is short of being the superstar he once was, but being more than just a role player as well.

Apr 13, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Mookie Betts (50) is safe at second base then steals third base against the Washington Nationals in the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

7. Mookie Betts, Red Sox (NR in ’15)

2015: .291/.341/.479 18 HR, 77 RBI, 92 runs scored, 42 doubles, 21 stolen bases, .820 OPS

Last 2 Years: .291/.348/.471 12 HR, 48 RBI, 63 runs scored, 27 doubles, 14 stolen bases, .818 OPS

Betts has been a man on the move in regards to where his every day position will be. He rose through the system as a second baseman, but also displayed a clear athleticism that related well to centerfield duties as well. And now a year after proving himself in the heart of the outfield, he will move over to the right corner –for now at least.

But regardless of where he take he takes his glove, Betts proved himself to be one of the most exciting young players in the game. In his first full season, he made an impact everywhere possible, saving nine defensive runs in the field (often of the highlight variety), while also living up to the sizeable hype at the plate. In his first full season, he finished with 68 extra base hits, by way of 42 doubles, 8 triples and 18 home runs—good for a .820 OPS. He is on a crash course with being a perennial 20/20 threat.

 

6. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (#9 in ’15)

2015: .271/.325/.540, 40 HR, 97 RBI, 87 runs scored, 25 doubles, 2 stolen bases, .864 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.332/.540 26 HR, 68 RBI, 65 runs scored, 21 doubles, 9 stolen bases, .864 OPS

As is always the case, when CarGo is healthy, CarGo is among the most impactful players in the game. Gonzalez finished a season for the first time since 2010, playing a career-best 153 contests and as a result, he finished second in the NL in home runs.

He got off to the worst start of his career throughout April and May, before strapping a rocket to his back mid-summer. He hit 36 home runs from June-September, while topping 20 RBI per month after the All-Star Break. While no longer the speed threat or high average producer he formerly was, Gonzalez settled in nicely as the second hammer to join Nolan Arenado at the heart of the Rockies lineup, although he is likely to be heavily shopped this summer as they continue to retool.

 

5. J.D. Martinez, Tigers (#8 in ’15)

2015: .282/.344/.535 38 HR, 102 RBI, 93 runs scored, 33 doubles, 3 stolen bases, .879 OPS

Last 3 Years: .286/.333/.506 23 HR, 71 RBI, 58 runs scored, 27 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .840 OPS

If anyone had doubts about if the breakout player of the year from 2014 keeping up his out of the blue pace he found once he relocated from Houston, it is safe to say they have been put to bed now permanently. Martinez entrenched himself among the elite power hitters in all of the game last season, running his two-year total for long balls up to 61, the 11th best combined total in baseball over that time.

Since coming to Detroit, Martinez has carried at .296/.350/.543 split line, and drove in a career-best 102 runs ago as well. And despite what he has already established, it stands to reason that Martinez is line to put up even more potent numbers than he did in his Silver Slugger/All-Star 2015, with Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera hitting in front of him, along with Victor Martinez watching his back. Martinez could be on a collision course with another 20+ RBI total increase this year.

 

4. Jason Heyward, Cubs (#5 in ’15)

2015: .293/.359/.797 13 HR, 60 RBI, 79 runs scored, 33 doubles, 23 stolen bases, .797 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.353/.415 13 HR, 52 RBI, 73 runs scored, 27 doubles, 15 stolen bases, .768 OPS

Perhaps the game’s premier outfield defender, Heyward alters the game from right field in a way that few players can from a corner defensive position. He took home his third Gold Glove in his only season in St. Louis, contributing a second consecutive year of a posting at least two Wins Above Replacement defensively. He posted a fielding percentage of .990+ for the third straight year as well, while still leading the game in right fielder range factor. Toss in his 10 outfield assists –which brought his two year total to 19— and Jey Hey is one of the most dangerous defenders in the game.

This norm continued while he stayed the course of rounding himself into a much more complete player at the plate as well. He achieved new career-highs in batting average, doubles, on-base percentage and stolen bases, all which contributed to a new personal high WAR of 6.5. And by relocating to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, his long-awaited power surge could finally be sparked as well.

 

3. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (#2 in ’15)

2015: .250/.377/.536 40 HR, 114 RBI, 108 runs scored, 29 doubles, 8 stolen bases, .913 OPS

Last 3 Years: .266/.381/.521 34 HR, 97 RBI, 97 runs scored, 27 doubles, 7 stolen bases, .902 OPS

The most epic bat flip of the decade provided a fantastic cap to a year that deserved it from Joey Bats. It came on the heels of yet another season of being the preeminent power hitter in the American League, as Bautista topped 40 home runs for the third time in his career.  In route to making his sixth consecutive All-Star appearance, Bautista also topped the AL in walks and finished in the AL top 10 in home runs, RBI, runs scored, slugging % and on-base + slugging % as well.

Yet while he has remained a superior power threat, he has also rounded into one of the most balanced hitters in the game as well. 2015 marked the second straight year where he hit at least 35 home runs and drove in 100 runs, while still working more than 100 walks, and still getting more free passes than he strike outs (214 walks compared to 202 K’s).

Stanton

2. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (#1 in ’15)

2015: .265/.346/.606 27 HR, 67 RBI, 47 runs scored, 12 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .952 OPS

Last 3 Years: .270/.374/.541 29 HR, 78 RBI, 66 runs scored, 23 doubles, 6 stolen bases, .915 OPS

If only he could have avoided yet another freakish injury last season, Stanton could have put on one of the best power displays seen in many years. In only 76 games, he hit 27 home runs, which worked out to a homer every 10 at-bats. If he had stayed at that clip and played a full second half, he would have reached 50 easily with some time to go still in September.

From a pure ability standpoint, there is no one at his level in regards to hitting the long ball today. Stanton is 26 years old and in line to top 200 career homers already this season, all while only playing 150 games in a season once. As his 2014 season showed, he is capable of doing prodigious numbers, even if surrounded by less talent than many other superstars are afforded. The only trick is to keep him on the field, because if he does, there will not be an MVP race in which his name is not mentioned.

 

1. Bryce Harper, Nationals (#3 in ’15)

2015: .330/.460/.649, 42 HR, 99 RBI, 118 runs scored, 38 doubles, 6 stolen bases, 1.109 OPS

Last 3 Years: .296/.401/.534, 25 HR, 63 RBI, 77 runs scored, 24 doubles, 6 stolen bases, .936 OPS

It is asinine to think that it was just last season that Harper was named “Most Overrated Player” in the game in a vote of his peers conducted by ESPN. Because apparently Harper’s ears were wide open for that and he put all of his considerable talents towards creating a coming of age that had to be seen to be believed. With his propensity for running into walls behind him, he launched an all-out assault on everything thrown his way that saw him become the third youngest MVP winner of all-time, behind such substantial company as Johnny Bench and Stan Musial.

At age 22, Harper led the National League in home runs and runs scored, as well as on-base, slugging and on-base + slugging percentages, while finishing second in batting average. His MLB-leading ballpark adjusted OPS+ of 195 showed that he dominated at every park with the same ferocious nature across the board. So complete was Harper’s effort that he hit .335 with 35 homers against righties and .318 against lefties, with only two more strikeouts than walks. Yet, the greatest testament to Harper’s year is that while it was a huge leap from where he was before, at only 23 he has proven that he is the best hitter in the National League already and he is only getting started—he won’t even turn 30 until 2023.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers; Shin-Soo Choo, Indians; Hunter Pence, Giants; George Springer, Astros.

Coming into 2015, “rebound field” may be the better way to view the group that inherits this list, as much of its population is in flux in one way or another. Whether it be an injury rehab, a positional relocation or simply reestablishing some stock that had taken a shift over the past few years, the position is far from solid in terms of determining its hierarchy.

StantonRF

But with so many different factors weighing in, how does a true ranking really get determined? There are some clear impact players that register on any board, such as the NL’s MVP runner up, a pair that finished 1-2 in a prior MVP race that are now retooling their respective games, the game’s most brimming potential talent, and finally, the biggest defensive difference maker in the game. But each has a caution flag and point to prove entering the year as well, making it as difficult to decipher group as there is in the game.

But all things considered, it is an enticingly talented group that IF most of its inhabitants can perform up to their billing; it will be a complexity of a much different type to readdress around this time next year.

 

1. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (#8 in 2014): He unleashed nearly his full potential a year ago, in route to establishing himself as the game’s top power threat. His 37 home runs led the National League, as did his .555 slugging percentage and 299 total bases. Stanton’s unfortunate run in with a Mike Fiers’ fastball to his face stopped him short of running his output even higher, but that did not stop the Marlins from rewarding their 25-year-old cornerstone with the largest contract in sports history.

2-year average: .271 average/.904 OPS/30 home runs/84 RBI/28 doubles/7 stolen bases/.975 Fld%

2. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (#5 in ’14): For the first time in three years, Bautista was truly back to full strength in 2014, and he returned to stand among the top of the American League hitter’s food chain. His 35 home runs were the fifth most in the league and he took home his third career Silver Slugger as a result. One of the underrated parts of his game is the impact his arm makes as well, as his 12 outfield assists were tops among all MLB right fielders.

2-year average: .274 average/.896 OPS/32 home runs/88 RBI/26 doubles/6 stolen bases/.981 Fld%

3. Bryce Harper, Nationals (#4 in left field in ’14): Again plagued by injuries throughout the regular season, Harper played a career-low 100 games a year ago. As a result his numbers dipped across the board and even made a few people question his still sky high potential. But the then 21-year-old was one of the few live wires in the Nats Division Series versus the Giants, clubbing three huge home runs and instantly reminding everyone of why he carries the rep he does. And he’s only 22 and settling into a new position—while finding his way.

2-year average: .273 average/.815 OPS/16 home runs/45 RBI/17 doubles/6 stolen bases/.987 Fld%

4. Hunter Pence, Giants (#9 in ’14): As well, due to his quirky mannerisms and awkward style, Pence’s play is one of the most underrated parts of what sets the Giants apart. His 106 runs scored were the second most in the NL, while his 180 hits were the third most in the league. Pence turned in a .444 World Series average to top it all off as well. He has also been stunningly consistent—and therefore regularly agitating for opponents and rival fans alike—playing in all 162 games each of the past two seasons.

2-year average: .280 average/.799 OPS/24 home runs/86 RBI/32 doubles/18 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

5. Jason Heyward, Cardinals (Not Ranked): The multi-talented corner outfielder has spun between heart of the lineup presence and back up to patient table setter over the past few years while looking to develop an offensive identity. But one thing that has remained intact is that he arguably makes the biggest defensive outfield impact in the game. In route to winning his second Gold Glove, he counted for 30 runs saved in the field and cut down nine base runners from right as well.

2-year average: .264 average/.752 OPS/12 home runs/48 RBI/24 doubles/11 stolen bases/.998 Fld%

DOG-score1-articleLarge

6. Matt Kemp, Padres (#6 in center field in ’14): There was so much discussion about how long he would stay in LA last year, as well as how long he could stay healthy, that it was lost in the mix that he put up his best season in years along the way. Kemp made the transition to the corner outfield and hit 25 home runs, drove in 89 runs and tied a career-high with 38 doubles. Now his encore season will be cast as the the center attraction in the Padres aggressive facelift effort.

2-year average: .281 average/.810 OPS/16 home runs/61 RBI/26 doubles/8 stolen bases/.971 Fld%

7. Ryan Braun, Brewers (#1 in ’14): Braun slipped to career-low levels for a majority season’s work during his return to the field from the despicable season-ending suspension. But considering what he was before his two injury and suspension filled 2013-14 campaigns, along with some solid, yet unspectacular numbers a year ago (19 home runs, 81 RBI, 30 doubles) he still deserves some benefit of the doubt for a revival.

2-year average: .275 average/.805 OPS/14 home runs/60 RBI/22 doubles/8 stolen bases/.993 Fld%

8. J.D. Martinez, Tigers (Not Ranked): He figured it all out in a major way after making it to Detroit last year, hitting 23 home runs, turning in a .315 average and filling a much needed void in offense in the evolving Tiger lineup. His rapid ascension could cause some skepticism, but Martinez only hit south of .340 during one of the year’s final four months, when he turned in a .265 August mark….only to return with a season-high .354 in September. So he passes the smell test for now.

2-year average: .289 average/.808 OPS/15 home runs/56 RBI/24 doubles/4 stolen bases/.985 Fld%

9. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (#5 in center field in ’14): 2014 was a total loss for Cargo, hitting .238 and missing over half of the season’s games after finally succumbing to a bad knee that required August surgery. But he stays relevant simply because of what he is capable of when right, which has included Gold Gloves in two of the last three years and four consecutive years of 20 homer/20 stolen base seasons.

2-year average: .276 average/.864 OPS/18 home runs/54 RBI/19 doubles/12 stolen bases/.986 Fld%

10. Torii Hunter, Twins (Not Ranked): Consistency pays out big after a while, and the recent late career groove that Hunter has been in is a remarkable one to watch. The now 39-year-old has refused to decline, and his offensive production is at nearly the same level it was a decade ago. And now as he returns back to his original home with the Twins, it should not be a surprise that does far more than just be a veteran influence on his young teammates.

2-year average: .295 average/.783 OPS/17 home runs/84 RBI/35 doubles/4 stolen bases/.982 Fld%

 

Runners Up: Michael Cuddyer, Jay Bruce, Carlos Beltran, Kole Calhoun

2013-Braves-atlanta-braves-35376349-650-440

A funny thing happened in the NL East last year: outside of the Marlins heading up the rear, nothing of that was supposed to happen actually came to pass. This is no knock against the Braves, who dominated the division from its outset and held on for their first division title since 2005, but coming into the season, the division was all but gifted to its incumbent champions, the Washington Nationals.

2013 Finish

1. Atlanta Braves (96-66)

2. Washington Nationals (86-76)

3. New York Mets (78-88)

4. Philadelphia Phillies (73-89)

5. Miami Marlins (62-100)

However, things never quite jived for one reason or another for the Nats, and they languished off in the distance (that was often of the double digit variety) in second place for most of the year. Behind them, the Mets and Phillies traded jabs, with New York playing a stronger than expected effort behind the rise of Matt Harvey and the return to form of Chase Utley and rise of Domonic Brown helping to push the Phils.

However over the season’s final month, something clicked in DC, the Nationals came back to life and finished with the second best September record in the National League, which still kept them 10 games in the rear of Atlanta, but put both the division and the league on notice: they are still a force to be reckoned with. Will that carry over into the new season, or will the Braves hold their previously sizable ground atop the East? Or will the rebuilding Phillies or Mets pull the surprise of the season and ascend up the hill themselves? Let’s see how the East looks to shake out.

All-Division Lineup

1. Bryce HarperNationals, Left Field

2. Chase UtleyPhillies, Second Base

3. David WrightMets, Third Base

4. Giancarlo StantonMarlins, Right Field

5. Freddie FreemanBraves, First Base

6. Ian DesmondNationals, Shortstop

7. Carlos RuizPhillies, Catcher

8. Denard SpanNationals, Centerfield

Fernandez took the NL by storm in his rookie year, finishing second in ERA (2.18) while surrendering the fewest hits per game as well (5.3).

Fernandez took the NL by storm in his rookie year, finishing second in ERA (2.18) while surrendering the fewest hits per game as well (5.3).

Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee—Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasberg—Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Gio Gonzalez—Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Jose Fernandez—Marlins

Right Handed Reliever: Tyler Clippard—Nationals

Lefty Handed Reliever: Luis Avilan—Braves

Closer: Craig Kimbrel—Braves

The Mets stand to benefit nicely from surrounding David  Wright with some protection. Namely Granderson, who had back-to-back 40 home runs years in 2011-12.

The Mets stand to benefit nicely from surrounding David Wright with some protection. Namely Granderson, who had back-to-back 40 home runs years in 2011-12.

Lineup

1. Nationals

2. Braves

3. Phillies

4. Mets

5. Marlins

Top to bottom, there’s no holes in the Nationals lineup, and all that it takes is even a portion of them showing up in shifts throughout the year to make them a respectable club. But when working in concert, there may not be a better NL lineup card than theirs 1-8. The Braves and Phillies did a lot last year in finding players such as Jason Heyward and Domonic Brown to step up in spots where they did not have a better option, and in roles where neither had succeeded before.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Nationals

2. Braves

3. Mets

4. Phillies

5. Marlins

Whichever combination of Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche or Jayson Werth they decide to go with, it is a formidable 3-4-5 combination. Atlanta will build around Freeman, whom can operate just as easily out of the third or fourth spot. Curtis Granderson will get more pitches for Wright in New York, while a full season of Stanton in Miami could produce some of the most awe inspiring numbers in the game.

Table Setters

1. Nationals

2. Braves

3. Mets

4. Phillies

5. Marlins

There are dynamically different top of the lineup orientations in the division. Span and Desmond are instant offense to start the game in DC, while Eric Young led the National League in stolen bases last year for the Mets with 46. In Philly, the hope is that Ben Revere can stay healthy and produce the .305 average he did in 88 games over a full season.

Depth

1. Nationals

2. Marlins

3. Phillies

4. Mets

5. Braves

With Scott Hairston, Nate McLouth, Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon to use at will, the Nationals once again have the best bench in baseball, with multiple starter quality players in the wings. The Phillies very well could be drawing on their bench for everyday contributions from John Mayberry, Kevin Frandsen and Darin Ruf if their past health issues (likely) arise again.

"<strong

Rotation

1. Nationals

2. Phillies

3. Braves

4. Mets

5. Marlins

The DC core of Strasburg, Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann gets even more impressive with the addition of Doug Fister, and is on the short list of baseball’s best collections. The Braves have a young and deep rotation without an absolute #1, but offer an arm with a chance to win every day. The Mets have an underrated group of arms that allowed them to compete more often than they should have a year ago.

1-2 Punch

1. Phillies

2. Nationals

3. Braves

4. Marlins

5. Mets

IF, and only if, Cole Hamels is healthy, him and Lee are probably the second best 1-2 combo in the NL, outside of Los Angeles. This is saying quite a bit, considering any combo of Zimmermann, Strasburg and Gonzalez is right on their heels. The Mets and Braves are facing seasons with their aces Harvey and Kris Medlen, respectively, mending from Tommy John surgery.

Bullpen

1. Braves

2. Nationals

3. Phillies

4. Marlins

5. Mets

Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilian, Drew Carpenter and Jonny Venters are a dominant group that goes against the grain of the starting staff usually setting the tone for a pitching staff’s success. In Atlanta, the pen is the reason for this. Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano give the Nats three arms with ninth inning experience to use at will.

Defense

1. Braves

2. Mets

3. Marlins

4. Nationals

5. Phillies

Atlanta’s Simmons is perhaps the best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith range-wise, and brings an arm that is said to be able to pump it up to 98 mph as well. Heyward, Freeman and both Uptons are plus defenders as well that make it easy to work off the mound in Atlanta. Conversely, the Phillies age shows up most startlingly when they are asked to take the field.

In his first full year leading the Phillies, Sandberg will have to find a balance between the win-now age of the club and the realities of their limitations.

In his first full year leading the Phillies, Sandberg will have to find a balance between the win-now age of the club and the realities of their limitations.

Manager

1. Fredi Gonzalez—Braves

2. Terry Collins—Mets

3. Matt Williams—Nationals

4. Ryne Sandberg—Phillies

5. Mike Redmond—Marlins

Gonzalez deserves a lot of credit for keeping Atlanta moving ahead with such a massive lead last season, but it was Terry Collins who did the best job of all skippers in the division. He squeezed every bit of talent he could out of the Mets roster and could absolutely be the reason for any premature success they have as they restructure this season.

Finances

1. Phillies

2. Nationals

3. Braves

4. Mets

5. Marlins

The Phillies have the funds and Ruben Amaro has the gumption to use them, although he often doesn’t do so in the most measured manner. The Nationals and Braves also have the type of finances that can be used to add a piece on the run as needed, such as Atlanta did in acquiring Ervin Santana in the wake of the Medlen injury.

Impact Additions

1. Doug Fister (Nationals via trade)

2. A.J. Burnett (Phillies via free agency)

3. Curtis Granderson (Mets via free agency)

4. Ervin Santana (Braves via free agency)

5. Marlon Byrd (Phillies via free agency)

Granderson was a strong addition for the Mets who have struggled to produce regular offense for years now. Burnett and Santana were necessary acquisitions for their respective clubs, who found themselves under equipped with two solid fits to boost their suddenly slim rotations.

Leap Forward

1. Bryce Harper—Nationals

2. Wilson Ramos—Nationals

3. Alex Wood—Braves

4. Zack Wheeler—Mets

5. Adeiny Hechavarria—Marlins

It may seem strange to see Harper on this list considering he is a two-time All-Star already, but he is likely on the verge of a major jump ahead to the 30/30 club range of contributiors. Wood will be asked to carry much more responsibility in the Braves staff, which he is equipped to handle. Hechavarria showed a better offensive prowess than expected, driving in 42 runs for the Marlins, and is young enough to work on his low average.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez—Phillies

2. Travis d’Arnaud—Mets

3. Noah Syndergaard–Mets

4. Jake Marisnick—Marlins

5. Christian Bethancourt—Braves

The Phillies gambled big ($12 million deal) on Gonzalez being ready to be an instant contributor at the Major League level, and he’s quickly become an essential part of any potential success they have. D’Arnaud has been at the center of two trades for former Cy Young candidates, and now has the opportunity to show why as the everyday Mets backstop out of the gate.

PREDICTIONS

1. Washington Nationals

2. Atlanta Braves

3. New York Mets

4. Philadelphia Phillies

5. Miami Marlins

Maybe it is an exercise in not learning from the past, but the Nationals are just too exceptional of a group to bet against still. They have as deep of a starting pitching group as possible and as strong of an everyday lineup as a non-DH roster can hold. Add in the growth of its young stars and a deep bench capable of contributing on an everyday basis, and it should be their division to take. The only potholes that stand are if, as always, health works on their side and rookie manager Matt Williams can adapt well to his new role.

Yet, this is not to slight the Braves in any way. Despite another year of Tommy John surgeries haunting their staff, they still have as good of a team as they did a year ago. They will have to lick the wounds of both rebounding from those injuries and comeback strong from dropping a very winnable Division Series. But the talent is there still and a chance to grow together is exact what they will need if they want to defend their title.

Otherwise, the Mets and Phillies find themselves in comparable places again, where they are looking to figure out how to make the most of what they have, despite being a clear cut behind the two pacesetters in the division. Meanwhile in Miami, they made a lot of moves to add experience to their roster, but not enough to do much more than a 5-8 game uptick in the standings.

In the end, the Nationals have what it takes to win a competitive battle with Atlanta, in a division that will likely produce only one postseason participant.

For more on the season to come and what’s coming of it, follow me in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

I’m not going to cut corners, because there’s no need to. The focus on Major League Baseball within the black community is at a low. Perhaps it is outdated, or not up to the accustomed speed of this generation’s overall lifestyle, but by any measure, all levels of focus on the game (at every level) is at an all-time low. There are a variety of claims why this is from the unenthused about the game.

“The season is too long.” …. “Everybody that plays is cheating.”….”It’s too boring.”

All of these claims and elements are raised against the game frequently. However, another clear factor that keeps away much of the Black community is the simple fact that it isn’t easy to identify with on a social level. Many people may turn on the game looking for a familiar face, and find it to be like trying to find Waldo in a fitted and cletes. Of all major professional sports, the MLB has the smallest representation of black players of any of them. And actually, it’s not even close. There is an 82 and 62 percent Black presence in the NBA and NFL, respectively. Even more, there are three times as many Latinos amongst the MLB ranks than there are Blacks (27% to 9%). The demographics of baseball look very much like an acurate description of what a U.S. census would actually look like soon.

However, the game is far from being a color devoid contest in regards to it’s former primary minority, as many of the top players in the game are among that 9%. The small overall number does not limit the large impact of Blacks on the game. Last year, the total number of Black All-Stars stood at 13. In MVP voting at the end of the year, three of the top 20 finalists were American-born Blacks. In the American League, the two runners up for the Cy Young Award for top pitcher were Black (with 3rd place candidate CC Sabathia previous being the 2007 winner). When Ron Washington managed the Texas Rangers all the way to the World Series, a black man still stood underneath the brightest lights the league has in October. Headed into this year, there is a strong possibility that the only new electee to the Hall of Fame will be a black man, former Cincinnati Reds great Barry Larkin.

Price won 19 games a year ago and has quickly become among the elite pitchers in baseball.

In last year’s state of the game and it’s black influence, I listed the top 10 Black stars in the game, along with a state of the culture’s impact on the sport in history. That element clearly still remains, although it is dissipating due to a loss of focus and interest in the sport from younger generations. The sport’s place in the history of the race remains; baseball has played a critical role in the advancement of Blacks as a people in the nation over the last 60 years. From producing groundbreaking pioneers such as Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, to Civil Rights leaders such as Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron, to cross-cultural superstars such as Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey, Jr. The race has advanced the game tremendously, and continues to do so to this day.

In the spirit of this trail, this year’s list isn’t about a showcase of the “talented 10” Black players in all of the game. Rather it is a listing of every African-American player on each team in the League, along with a listing of managers, executives and a few top prospect, coming attractions as well.

Of the 30 Major League teams, 28 have at least one American born Black player, for a total of 63 currently on MLB rosters. While there aren’t a lot of us, there is still major noise coming from the small crowd. Tune in and support us.

*-Denotes 2010 All-Star

Arizona Diamondbacks (2): *Chris Young, Justin Upton

Atlanta Braves (1): *Jason Heyward

The Braves Heyward, at only 21 years old, stands to be the next major Black star in the game.

Baltimore Orioles (2): Adam Jones, Derrek Lee

Boston Red Sox (3): *Carl Crawford, Mike Cameron, Darnell McDonald

Chicago Cubs (1): *Marlon Byrd

Chicago White Sox (2): Edwin Jackson, Juan Pierre

Cincinnati Reds (2): *Brandon Phillips, Fred Lewis

Phillips took home a Gold Glove Award last season while leading the Reds back to the playoffs.

Cleveland Indians (2): Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley

Colorado Rockies (1): Dexter Fowler

Florida Marlins (1): Mike Stanton

Houston Astros (2): *Michael Bourn, Bill Hall

Kansas City Royals (2): Jeremy Jeffress, Jarrod Dyson

Los Angeles Angels (3): *Torii Hunter, *Vernon Wells, Howie Kendrick

Los Angeles Dodgers (4): Matt Kemp, James Loney, Marcus Thames, Tony Gwynn, Jr.

Very few players have to overall ability Kemp brings to the table.

Milwaukee Brewers (4): Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Nyjer Morgan, LaTroy Hawkins

Minnesota Twins (2): Delmon Young, Denard Span

New York Mets (1): Willie Harris

New York Yankees (3): *Derek Jeter, *CC Sabathia, Curtis Granderson

Oakland Athletics (2): Coco Crisp, Tyson Ross

Philadelphia Phillies (5): *Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Ben Francisco, John Mayberry, Jr., Domonic Brown

Howard already has one MVP under his belt, and is well on his way to a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

Pittsburgh Pirates (2): Andrew McCutchen, James McDonald

San Diego Padres (5): Orlando Hudson, Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, Eric Patterson, Kyle Blanks

Seattle Mariners (2): Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins

St. Louis Cardinals (1): Jon Jay

Tampa Bay Rays (2): *David Price, B.J. Upton

Texas Rangers (4): *Arthur Rhodes, Darren O’Day, Darren Oliver, Julio Borbon

Toronto Blue Jays (2): Rajai Davis, Corey Patterson

Of the 30 MLB clubs, only the San Francisco Giants & Washington Nationals do not have a Black player on their active roster or disabled list.

Managers: Ron Washington (Rangers), Dusty Baker (Reds)

Executives: Kenny Williams (General Manager, White Sox)

On The Come Up, Top 100 Prospects that will join these ranks: Desmond Jennings (Rays), Aaron Hicks (Twins), Chris Carter & Michael Taylor (Athletics)

Even if everybody returned from last year’s roster, that surprisingly challenged for both the National League East title and Wild Card spot, everything would still be different. For the first time in 20 years, Bobby Cox isn’t directing the ship for the Braves. However, the cupboard isn’t bare for the new manager taking over the reins for the future Hall of Famer, Fredi Gonzalez. He showed for years in Florida he could make a roster with very little work as hard as possible to maximize what it’s got (think runway model coach without the colorful accent and lifestyle). In the CHEAP SEATS first of 30 Major League previews, let’s take a look first at the new era in the A.

THREE UP

1. The Come Up: There is no better young power hitter anywhere than Jason Heyward, who made his All-Star debut at the age of 21 last year. He is already the best hitter in a lineup that isn’t exactly low on quality bats, and he hasn’t even seen what his roof can be yet. Think Ryan Howard, with more mobility for the power this guy has, or maybe a pre-DEA target Darryl Strawberry when he could do no wrong for the 80’s Mets. That’s what you’re looking at here. Injuries and rookie cold streaks held him to 18 home runs last year; however it’s not a gamble to say he could approach doubling that number this year.

Look for Heyward's bat to become among the elite in either League this year.

 

2. Youth Movement: No team in baseball has a better mix of young players on the Major League scene already, and more help ready to break through now than the Braves do. With already All-Stars Heyward and Martin Prado playing every day, and starting pitchers Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor , in addition to closer Craig Kimbrel,  already on the scene, the foundation is laid. First baseman Freddie Freeman about to play his first full season and the minor’s best pitching prospect in Julio Teheran (and his 97 mph fastball) is not far behind. The future is about to becoming the present in a very good way.

3. Arms Development: As mentioned, the Braves have a ton of great young arms already at work for them. If Hanson keeps the consistency he found in the second half of 2010, Jurrjens stays healthy and young left hander Mike Minor grows along with them this year, they have one of the most talented rotations in the game, with several guys in the race to be their long-term ace.

THREE DOWN

1. Middle of Nowhere: Nate McLouth fell off last year harder than Sarah Palin’s presidential hopes. He went from being an All-Star with back-to-back 20 home run years, to a .190 hitter with only 6 home runs, that spent time in the minor leagues. That can happen, especially for a guy that landed $5 million for that effort, and actually will make $6.5 million this year as a follow-up.

2. End of Days: Billy Wagner retired as he said he would, and took his 1.43 ERA and 43 saves with him. The Braves didn’t chase a proven vet to replace him, and instead opted for youngster Craig Kimbrel to fill the role. It’s an all or nothing move going with a young, first time closer and for a team with a realistic shot at the postseason, he could make the entire difference. Not much pressure on ya there kid. Oh wait….actually yeah, that is. Best of luck.

Taking over for a Hall of Famer is never easy, and Kimbrel may have the weight of the entire team's fortunes on him as well.

 

3. “Bring Out The Gimp”: I’m going to tread lightly here and make my point clear about a certain definite Hall of Famer that the Braves are still placing a lot of their success on over at third base. Chipper Jones has never been the picture of health at any point in his career, however when he’s been out there, he’s been dynamic. You don’t get 436 home runs and eight 100 RBI years on accident. However, he’s still being depended on to produce at the same level that he earned this respect at, even though he’s coming off a torn ACL, is 36 years old and his coming off a year where he had to go on a tear to end up hitting .265 when he was healthy. Another high stakes gamble in a crucial spot.

LINEUP/STAFF w/ 2010 stats (Biggest Difference Maker in BOLD)

  1. Martin Prado-LF: .307 avg/15 HR/66 RBI/100 runs scored
  2. Jason Heyward-RF: .277 avg/18 HR/72 RBI/11 stolen bases
  3. Chipper Jones-3B: .265 avg/10 HR/46 RBI/95 games played
  4. Dan Uggla-2B: Biggest boast to the club, hit 33 home runs last year and takes pressure off Heyward as primary power source. Biggest offensive addition to any NL team this year.
  5. Brian McCann-C: .269 avg/21 HR (tops among NL catchers)/77 RBI
  6. Alex Gonzalez-SS: .250 avg/23 HR/88 RBI
  7. Freddie Freeman-1B: ROOKIE. Hit .319/18 HR/87 RBI at AAA in 2010
  8. Nate McLouth-CF: .190 avg/6 HR/24 RBI/7 stolen bases

 

  1. Tim Hudson-RH: 17-9, 2.83 ERA, 139 K’s
  2. Jair Jurrjens-RH: 7-6, 4.64 ERA, 86 K’s
  3. Derek Lowe-RH: 16-12, 4.00 ERA, 136 K’s
  4. Tommy Hanson-RH: 10-11, 3.33 ERA, 173 K’s
  5. Mike Minor-LH: 3-2, 5.98 ERA, 43 K’s

Closer: Craig Kimbrel-RH: 1 Save, 0.44 ERA, 40 K’s (In 20 innings, Wow!)

Rundown: Are they getting better? Yes. A nearly every team in the East got better this year, and most made really big name moves to do so. Braves are no exception by adding the former All-Star Uggla to the middle of their mix. However, they were already close to breaking through with the cast they in place previously, and most of their roster actually has room to improve. This is a team that hasn’t fully realized its potential yet. It’s going to be hard to take the fight to the Phillies, but the talent is in place. It’s just a matter of if all the Atlanta youth is ready to contribute all summer consistently and stay healthy, which is always a gamble with young guys (ask the Nationals).

 

There is a trend in sports that “black” is a lesser color in baseball. This is a trend that is a misconception, to say the very least. In the current cultural landscape of major sports, baseball takes a big backseat to basketball and football. From the sports played growing up, to what is the dominant viewed ones, Major League Baseball is far behind the NBA and NFL is cultural relevance. In comparison to LeBron James, Adrian Peterson, Kobe Bryant and Randy Moss, the preeminent African-American baseball players are far behind them in the eye of the black community.

However, there is a much wider span of participation of Blacks in Baseball currently. There are 56 African-American

Since Bonds and Griffey stepped down, many others have filled their roles.

players on active MLB rosters currently and 27 of the 30 teams have representation, with the Los Angeles Dodgers being tops with four African-American players currently. This is leads to many of the exceptional baseball players of color having a far lesser impact on the youth, and currently the participation of African-Americans in the MLB is at an all-time low, however there are a number of great examples of the legacy of African-Americans in baseball currently.

Historically, since the ground breaking movement of Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as the first African-American in Major League Baseball, every generation’s greats have consisted of multiple players of color in among the greats of the period. Before this leap was made possible, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston, among many others, dominated the Negro Leagues and baseball was the top sport amongst African-Americans in the U.S. Unfortunately, many of these players never got to showcase their talents on a completely level professional playing field. From Robinson in the 40’s to Willie Mays and Ernie Banks in the 50’s, the color barrier was shattered. Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson were dominant in the 1960’s and 70’s. Reggie Jackson and Joe Morgan were fixtures throughout the 1970’s as well. In the 80’s and 90’s Ozzie Smith, Rickey Henderson, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey, Jr were the greatest players of the era. Historically, blacks have In the current incarnation of the game that is no exception to that.

Hank Aaron (left) and Willie Mays created great legacies of blacks in the Major League

With the 81st MLB All-Star game taking place tonight, it is a fine time to observe the current leg of African-American greats in the sport. Here are the Top 15 African-American players in the game now and many reasons to tune into the game to support the history and legacy of the game as it is continued in African-American culture.

15. Andrew McCutchen-Center fielder-Pittsburgh Pirates: McCutchen is a fast rising young outfielder for Pittsburgh Pirates. In his first season he had one game of three home runs and his first two Major League seasons has accumulated 20 stolen bases in each season. Named Baseball America National League Rookie of the Year in 2009. Widely considered the best player on the Pirates, despite having not played 200 games yet and being only 23 years old.

14. Vernon Wells-Center fielder-Toronto Blue Jays: When he has been healthy, which has been a year to year battle, Wells is one of the most productive players in all of baseball. He has been a mainstay with the Blue Jays and has become a 3-time Gold Glove Award winner for his defensive excellence, as well as a 3-time All-Star selection. He has totals of over 300 doubles and 200 home runs in his 12 year career.

13. Curtis Granderson-Center fielder-New York Yankees: One of the most well-rounded players in the game, “CJ” Granderson was traded from the Detroit Tigers in the winter of 2009 to the Yankees for Austin Jackson, another young rising African-American center fielder. Granderson led the American League in triples in 2007 with 23 and became the first player since 1949 to achieve that many in one season. He also became only the third player ever to accumulate 20 home runs, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in one season in 2007.

Black players such as CC Sabathia and Granderson join in with Alex Rodriguez and anchor the Yankees, baseball best team.

12. Matt Kemp-Center fielder-Los Angeles Dodgers: One of the most gifted overall players in baseball, there’s nowhere that Kemp doesn’t make an impact. While he may be more famous in public circles as Rihanna’s boyfriend, in baseball Kemp is known as the most well-rounded player on a Dodgers team full of them. In 2009, he won a Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence in the outfield, and a Silver Slugger Award as one of the premier hitters at his position. A legit threat to be a yearly member of the 30 home run/30 stolen base club, one of the most exclusive groups in baseball.

11. Derrek Lee-First baseman-Chicago Cubs: One of the most consistent players in baseball over the last 10 years, Lee has over 300 home runs and a World Series title in his 13 year career. He has always been a great defender at first base and moves very well for 6’5, 245 pound player. His 2005 season was one of the best of the decade, finishing with a .335 batting average and 45 home runs. His contributions don’t end on the field, as he has raised over $1 million thru “Project 3000”, which serves research towards Leber’s congenital amaurosis, a genetic vision disease.

10. Grady Sizemore-Center fielder-Cleveland Indians: Once noted for his incredible durability, playing in 382 consecutive games, Sizemore has been unable to showcase his tremendous talents in full over the last few years due to multiple elbow and knee injuries. However, when healthy, he is among the premier talents baseball has seen in many years. Although only 27 years old, he is a 3-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner. Finished with totals of at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases every year from 2005 to 2008.

When he's healthy, Sizemore is one of baseball's elite talents.

9. Jason Heyward-Right fielder-Atlanta Braves: The sky is the limit for this 20-year-old Brave. Although he has played only one half of his rookie season, he has been voted to start the 2010 All-Star game and may have the most power of any outfielder in the game already. He has been compared to Daryl Strawberry in his prime and even the great Hank Aaron has said he will be one of the greats of the game. He has huge potential and could be the best power hitter of the next 10 to 15 years.

8. Prince Fielder-First baseman-Milwaukee Brewers: Speaking of great power hitters, it’s in this guy’s genes. Son of former Detroit Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder, who once hit 51 home runs himself, Prince has made his own niche as one of the great power hitters of the game. At 26 years old, he has already had a 50 homer season himself and has led the National League in runs batted in as well. He has teamed with Ryan Braun to give the Brewers arguably the best duo of hitters in all of baseball over the last 4 years.

7. David Price-Pitcher-Tampa Bay Rays: Taken as the #1 overall pick in the 2007 Draft, Price has given the Rays everything they could have asked for in his young career. After joining the Rays as an impact reliever in their push to the 2008 World Series, he has made the transition to All-Star starting pitcher in 2010 and currently leads the American League in wins and earned run average (ERA). The scary part is at 24 years old, he hasn’t touched his potential yet.

6. Jimmy Rollins-Shortstop-Philadelphia Phillies: A quick, disruptive base runner, Rollins is one of the most dangerous overall players in baseball. He has led the National League in triples four times and stolen 40 bases four times as well. In recent years he has become a power threat, hitting 30 home runs in 2007, on his way to the NL MVP. He has led the Phillies to a World Series title in 2008 and become a 3-time All-Star.

5. Torii Hunter-Center fielder-Los Angeles Angels: In center field there have been many great defenders, all the way from Mays to Griffey, but  Hunter doesn’t take a backseat to any of them. He has won 9 consecutive Gold Gloves in recognition of this. Since 2008, he has committed only 2 errors in over 350 games. No slouch at bat either, he has launched 250 home runs as well for the Angels and Minnesota Twins.

4. Carl Crawford-Left fielder-Tampa Bay Rays: Crawford is the most feared player on the bases in baseball. Considered the fastest player in baseball for many years, he has led the American League in stolen bases four times with 50 plus steals, and stole another 60 in 2009, yet didn’t lead the league with his career best total. In 2009, he was the All-Star Game MVP and tied a Major League record with six steals in one game. He was a tremendous overall amateur athlete as well, with offers to play guard for UCLA and quarterback for Nebraska, USC, Oklahoma and Florida in college.

3. Ryan Howard-First baseman-Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies recently inked Howard to a contract that lands him $25 million per year, and he’s earned every penny of it. He has done everything possible to be done in his career thus far, winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005 and following it a league leading 58 home run, 149 RBI 2006 season, that landed him the NL MVP award. Since then he has not slowed, leading the NL in home runs again in 2008 and RBI again in 08, 09 and currently in 2010. A 2008 World Series win sealed him as one of the biggest impact players in the game.

Ryan Howard (left) and Jimmy Rollins won back to back MVP's for the Phillies in '06 & '07

2. CC Sabathia-Pitcher-New York Yankees: Listed at 6’7 and a generous 290 pounds, he is one of the biggest figures in the game . The big lefty has dominated at every stop in his career. After winning the AL Cy Young Award as its top pitcher in 2007 as a Cleveland Indian, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 and was virtually untouchable in his short stop in the NL, leading the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Moving on too the Yankees for 2009, he lead the AL in wins and brought the Yankees their 27th World Series. He has also been on the front lines of expanding the MLB’s efforts into spreading Little League Baseball into urban areas to increase African-American participation in baseball again.

1. Derek Jeter-Shortstop-New York Yankees: Greatness is the easiest word used to define Derek Jeter’s career.

The Yankee captain is one of the greats of all time.

The all-time leader in hits for the sport’s greatest team, a 5-time World Champion, 11-time All-Star and the most recognizable face in the game, there is nothing that Jeter hasn’t done. As the undisputed captain of the defending World Champions, Jeter is starting yet another All-Star Game in 2010. Although he is one of the greatest shortstops ever, his leadership is what sets him apart from the pack. He has only missed the playoffs once in his 16 year career, sports a .309 batting average in the postseason and has a major league record 175 postseason hits. He simply is one of the best of any generation and has been the brightest star for years on a lineup that constantly looks like the solar system.