As far as I am concerned, the end of the Super Bowl marks the beginning of baseball season. Next week Pitchers and Catchers will report and while some guys have a good idea of what their zip code will be in 2017, a handful are coming into spring training preparing to battle for a position and in some cases, a roster spot. Today we are going to make some predictions about who will be playing where in the NL East come 2017. One BOLD prediction for all five teams.
There was not a whole lot of personnel needs that had to be addressed in the nation’s capital this off-season and while the Nats made some quiet moves to add a little bit of depth to the loaded roster, they made the most news for the signing they did not make. It is no secret that Washington has been in the market for a big name closer and if you had to pick one weakness on their roster it would have to be the bullpen. The Nats missed out on Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon among other closers this off-season. Jon Heyman had reported that there was still a “mystery team” bidding on Sergio Romo but the Dodgers officially inked him today. Now Ken Rosenthal is reporting they are working on a trade for White Sox closer David Robertson, but if they go through with that the White Sox will have essentially wiped out the Nationals farm system after getting three of their pitchers for Adam Eaton earlier this off-season. At this point I think it is safe to assume the Nats did not land the closer they wanted, no offense Joe Nathan, and are preparing to move on with in-house options.
The National’s 2017 Opening Day Closer will be Shawn Kelley
I understand this one is not so “bold”, but it addresses the biggest question on the roster. Kelley is coming off of his best Major League season and was arguably the Nationals most consistent late inning guy in 2016. His WHIP was below 1 at 0.897 and he only walked 11 batters in 58 innings while striking out 80. Given his command and ability to keep the ball in the ballpark, one could have argued the Nats had a pretty good closer candidate in Kelley all along. After serving as the setup man last year it will be interesting to see if he can translate that same success to the ninth inning.
New York Mets
There is a whole lot of stuff going on in New York and while you can’t argue the talent on the roster, you can question what the product will look like on the field in 2017. Whether it’s injuries to the rotation, underperforming outfielders, or a questionable managerial situation, the Mets have left themselves with a lot of question marks. This was the toughest one on the list. I could see Reyes taking over at third for Wright, I could see Bruce struggling out of the gate and Conforto taking over right, and we all know the Terry Collins rumblings aren’t going away anytime soon. After going back and forth on this one I finally settled back where I usually do when talking about the Mets, the rotation.
The Mets Fifth Starter will be Robert Gsellman
I like this guy a lot and, just like I have been with most Mets starters in recent memory, I am very high on him. He is fairly consistent with four pitches but the two that have everyone talking are his mid-90’s fastball that runs a little and his devastating curveball. In his first big league season in 2016 he appeared in eight games, starting in seven, and went 4-2 with 2.42 ERA and a 2.63 FIP. There is no denying that Zach Wheeler’s injuries have a lot to do with this prediction. I expect to see Wheeler coming out of the bullpen to start 2017. If he stays healthy and gets back to his old self, I think he can easily earn this spot back. I think a six man rotation would look nice in New York too, just saying…
It was hard to pinpoint ONE overriding question within the Miami Marlins organization heading in 2017, but for way different reasons than the Mets. While the Mets have too many question marks, the Marlins are polar opposites. The lineup from last year is going to remain essentially the same. The bullpen should be pretty good, especially with the addition of Brad Ziegler. The rotation is atrocious but at least it is pretty much set in stone. It may not be the most talented roster but they know what they are heading into the season with.
The Marlins Will Have an Eight Man Bullpen
The Marlins have three solid starters in Giancarlo Stanton (4.7 WAR), Christian Yelich (3.9 WAR),Marcell Ozuna (2.5 WAR), utility man Derek Dietrich, and veteran Ichiro to patrol the outfield and with a full year of Dee Gordon, the infield is set. My bold prediction for the Marlins is that the rotation is going to be so bad the only way to compensate for it would be an eight man bullpen. I expect the Marlins to have a four man bench consisting of catcher A.J. Ellis, infielder Miguel Rojas, utility man Derek Dietrich, and outfielder Ichiro. With the way it looks like the Marlins are counting on the bullpen to compensate for poor starting pitching, I would not be surprised to see 13 pitchers on the roster very early on in the season.
The last two teams are in pretty similar situations, the Phillies and Braves are both heavy into their rebuilds and are now playing the waiting game for their young talent to develop while filling out the roster with some veteran plug and play pieces. The Phillies are committed to their young guys in the bigs, they are throwing them out there as everyday players and letting them develop. I know Ryan Hanigan was signed to a minor league deal but don’t be surprised to see him crack the opening day roster as the team’s backup catcher behind Cameron Rupp while Jorge Alfaro starts the season in AAA.
J.P. Crawford Will Take Over as the Phillies Starting Shortstop
How is that for going out on a limb? This won’t happen immediately but with Freddy Galvis being arb eligible next year do not be surprised to see J.P. Crawford start splitting time with him at short at some point this season. The Phillies might use 2017 as a transition period to slide Crawford in as the full time shortstop.There has been a lot of hype surrounding this kid since the Phillies took him 16th overall in 2013 and we all know the Phillies aren’t exactly patient with their prospects. The only thing that might be holding Crawford back is his .244/.328/.318 slash line he posted in AAA last year. Hey, I warned you these predictions were bold.
The team might not be very good this year but they certainly will be fun to watch. There is a lot of excitement about the young guys coming up and of course the new ballpark. Everyone is talking about a full year of Dansby Swanson and trying to predict when Ozzie Albies will be joining him up the middle in SunTrust Park. I think most of the Braves top pitching prospects are still pretty far away but I also think we could be seeing another year like last year when it comes to the Braves rotation who led the league in starting pitchers used last year with 16. I get the attraction of having Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey in the rotation, they will be entertaining guys to watch but one has to wonder if they will put together a whole season and also just how much they are there to pitch and how much they are there to mentor. Despite all of that my bold prediction has nothing to do with pitching because that is way too unpredictable for the Braves.
The Braves will Sign Kelly Johnson to be Their Fourth Outfielder
For the fourth time… Cause why not… The organization loves Kelly Johnson and at this point I just think it would be hysterical, plus you know you would have a trade piece around the deadline. At 34 he still puts up decent enough numbers to be on a big league roster and while the organization is high on guys like Dustin Peterson and Adam Brett Walker, there has not been a lot of talk about either one of those guys being on the opening day roster. The trade of Mallex Smith could be evidence the Braves are ready to bring up Peterson, but it would be smart to have a backup plan other than Chase d’Arnaud in case he isn’t ready.
Tell me what you think! What are your bold predictions and just how far did I go out on a limb with these calls.
Stats Courtesy of: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com
Photos Courtesy of: mlb.com