Spring NL West Preview
Ah yes, the NL West, the division where any team can be picked to win it... except the Padres.
The boldest predictions in these standings are placing the DBacks as high as third and the Rockies as low as fourth. The Diamondbacks get a few upgrades just from CF A.J. Pollock coming back from a lost season (2015 Gold Glove, All-Star, 14th in MVP voting), RF David Peralta back from injuries, a trade for top young SP Taijuan Walker from the Mariners and a few new additions to the bullpen. They are also hoping for a very much needed bounce-back from SP Shelby Miller who had a historically terrible year (3-12, 6.15 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP) a down season from Zach Greinke (which meant he was about average). The Rockies upgraded their lineup with free agent SS/1B/CF Ian Desmond who matched his best career season last year (All-Star .285 AVG, 25 HR, 21 SB) and CF David Dahl who comes into his first full season (2016: 237 PA, .325 AVG, 7 HR, 5 SB, 12 2B) but both of those new additions enter the season on the disabled list. They have not upgraded their rotation but have added a couple of notable relievers in Greg Holland and Mike Dunn.
The Dodgers are always a mystery to me and always surprise me when they make the playoffs even though they always have one of the highest payrolls in baseball. They haven't made much of a change this year, only adding 2B Logan Forsythe who is a dependable and scrappy player and former gold glover Franklin Gutierrez who joins the clutter of outfielders.Yasiel Puig is still with the team, and they still have superstar cornerstones 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SS Corey Seager, SP Clayton Kershaw, and CP Kenley Jansson. San Diego is not expected to do much this year as the only acquisitions they made were of SP's who probably wouldn't have made any other teams' rotations (Jered Weaver, Jhoulys Chacin, and Trevor Cahill). They are counting on younger players maturing and a number of incoming rookies in the lineup.
The Giants are the pick to win the west because of the makeup of players on their team. They do have a superstar catcher in the middle of their lineup with Buster Posey, a brand new closer in Mark Melancon, and an incredibly accomplished rotation (Bumgarner, Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Moore and Caine). Mark "the Shark" Melancon (yup, they have two pitchers nicknamed "Shark," he and Samardzija) is by far the biggest addition for the Giants who had by far the worst bull pen in the majors last season. They didn't add any other everyday players, but did pick up a decent back up catcher in Nick Hundley and an interesting Korean import 3B with Jae-gyun Hwang. They will win the west because of players like 3B/SS Eduardo Nunez (.288 AVG, 16 HR, 40 SB last year), RF Hunter Pence (.289 AVG last year and always a power threat), and their middle infield of 2015 All-Stars SS Brandon Crawford and 2B Joe Panik.
Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)
Oh baby is this a good one. The NL West may have the most impressive crop of players who constantly find themselves at the top of the MVP voting with Paul Goldschmidt (second in MVP voting in '13 and '15), Nolan Arenado (fifth in voting '16), Buster Posey (2010 ROY, 2012 MVP), Corey Seager (2016 ROY, 3rd in MVP voting), another Dodger who is better addressed in the next section who is a former MVP himself, and hell, let's throw in Wil Myers (2013 ROY, 28 HR & 28 SB in 2016).
Myers' AVG last year is a little low to consider him a front runner here, but that was sure a season worth mentioning. Seager's .308 AVG and 26 HR as a 23 year old short stop is ridiculous but his 72 RBI sure leads something clutch to be desired in this great crop of players. Posey has no problem being the best catcher in the world every year he plays but hasn't hit more than 20 homers since 2014 or 100 RBI since 2012.
Nolan Arenado deserves more credit than he has gotten just because he plays in Colorado. He actually has played just as well on the road the last two season that he has lead the league in homers and RBI, filling out two thirds of the triple crown both years. His AVG's aren't too shabby but he's never cracked .300 in his career. Goldschmidt gets the nod for being a statistical freak, a copy of Miguel Cabrera but with speed and a golden glove. He's a 1B who had 32 STOLEN BASES last season and has had an OBP above or around .400 the last four seasons. He has a track record of more than one 30 homer season more than one 100 RBI season, more than one 100 walk season, more than one .300+ season. America's Firstbaseman will be the first MVP in a while that no one could pick out of a crowd.
Cy Young Candidate
Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
This past season was the first time in the last six seasons that Kershaw didn't finish in the top three of Cy Young voting (including three Cy Young Awards and one NL MVP), and he certainly would have had a good case for the award if he had hit the league minimum for innings. In 21 starts last season he only walked a TOTAL of 11 batters and struck out 172. The last time he had a WHIP over 0.90 was 2013. There are no other pitchers like him in baseball, and no one else is close. Greinke, Bumgarner, Rich Hill, and Cueto are nice pitchers but they're nowhere close to Kershaw.
Rookie of the Year Candidate
Hunter Renfroe (SDP)
There are a few higher rated rookies in the west this season, OF Manuel Margot (SD), 1B/OF Cody Bellinger (LAD), and SP Jeff Hoffman (COL). Bellinger is one of the highest rated prospects in the league but he doesn't have a home at either first or the outfield with the Dodgers and trade rumors are already circling around him as he will start the season in the minors. Manuel Margot will start the season in the outfield with Renfroe in the Padres outfield and is known for his impressive speed and elite defense. He will probably have a nice enough season but Renfroe's power might have more of an impact on the Padres. Hoffman is a much needed starting pitcher for the Rockies, but pitching in Denver may keep him from getting recognition.
Renfroe may not walk a lot but he still sported a .306 AVG in the minors last season. He had a hefty 30 homers and 105 RBI in 133 games, but his 34 doubles and 5 triples might be just as notable as the out of the park power. As noted in another preview, minor league doubles are a good indicator of home run power at the major league level. Pitcher friendly Petco Park might make some of those doubles mature into major league doubles, but it would sure be a welcome addition to the Padres offensive output.
Dark Horse Player
Christian Bethancourt C/OF/RP (SDP)
This one isn't the best tip for fantasy baseball but Bethancourt is a strange hybrid player off the bench. He came up as a decent catching prospect for the Braves but in the past season he was moved around the field to fill some gaps in the outfield. That's not especially strange considering how the Cubs and Red Sox have tried to utilize Schwarber and Swihart in similarly unconventional ways, but the Padres noticed Bethancourt's especially strong arm. The Padres and the Panama WBC team have taken note of his peculiarities as a position player pitcher and it's quite possible he'll be used out of the bullpen... or out of left field... to show off his repertoire of pitches. If a 96 mph fastball isn't good enough for you, how about a 53 mph knuckler... or is it an eephus pitch? Seeing a real life eephus pitch is like seeing a real live dinosaur. He might not be the best catcher or outfielder on his team, but he's the best hitting catcher and the best hitting pitcher in San Diego.
Most likely to be suspended for a fight
Johnny Cueto (SFG)
There's one thing I remember about Johnny Cueto from watching him face the Pirates in his days with the Reds. It was the 2013 Wild Card game when PNC Park fans chanted to get in his head and he dropped a ball that was thrown to him by the catcher. Honestly, at the time it didn't seem like a real case of the fans getting under his skin... until he got back to pitching threw away the game for the Reds. So I says to myself "Hey Pete, I wonder if this guy has ever been in a rather ugly fight in baseball where he didn't seem to be able to handle his frustrations?" and myself says back "Don't ask me, ask google." And google says to me "Oh crap, he stepped on a dude's head with his cleats a few years back." And so the mystery was solved.