Over the course of the next 15 days, all 30 MLB teams will be making their annual migration to either Florida or Arizona for 2017 Spring Training. With the first tune-up game just two weeks away, now is the time for speculation.
Remember what Gary Sanchez did last season? What about Jonathan Villar? Okay, so it’s not likely that a rookie explodes onto the big-league scene the way Sanchez did last season, but by October the MLB will be home to a brand-new set of household names. Below are a few guys that could end up in that category:
Tom Murphy (COL) – Quite frankly, the catcher position is lame. If not for the downright asinine numbers that Gary Sanchez posted in the second half of the season, the position would have been forgotten. Enter Tom Murphy. Before you screech, yes, Mr. Murphy only took to the batter’s box 49 times in 2016. What makes pundits salivate over the Rockies backstop is his power. There is no better home for a power hitter than Coors Field and Murphy has hit over 32 homers per 162 games in his career, including both the majors and minors. Murphy won’t match Sanchez’s pace of a long ball ever 2.65 games, but if he gets a shot at being the full-time catcher for Colorado, it’s reasonable to believe that 25 home runs is well within reach for him in 2017.
Greg Bird (NYY) – 39 home runs and 109 runs batted in; that’s what Greg Bird’s stat line would’ve looked like in 2015 had he played 162 games in Yankee pinstripes. Bird was in line to snatch the first base job out of the hands of Mark Teixeira in 2016. That was before a shoulder injury kept Bird off the diamond for the entire 2016 season. The slew of new arrivals in the Bronx in 2016, spearheaded by the otherworldly Gary Sanchez, made it easy to somewhat forget about Bird. It won’t be long before the baseball world is reminded of him. His swing is perfectly built for the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, which should make Bird a major power threat for years to come.
Jonathan Schoop (BAL) – Schoop represents the player on this list who I’m most uncertain about. One thing that I cannot stand when it comes to Schoop is that he evidently went to the Adam Jones school of plate discipline. That being said, Schoop is just 25 and fits right in as yet another power bat in the Orioles’ lineup. One thing he’ll have to improve on is his second-half numbers. He fell off big time last season after heading into the All-Star Break with his average up over .300. I see him taking a big step forward in the 2017 season, becoming a solid contributor for a full 162 game season.
Alex Bregman (HOU) – For many baseball fans, the lasting image of Alex Bregman’s rookie season was his horrific start (1-22 at the plate in July). What many fans don’t remember is that after his nightmare month of July was over, he started to get the bat going. He hit eight long balls in the season’s final two months, and added an impressive .323 average in September. There is no shortage of talent, and young talent at that, in the Astros’ lineup. After a humbling start to his big league career, Bregman flashed the potential that made him MLB.com’s former number one prospect. Look for the young infielder to build on his 2016 finish.
José Peraza (CIN) – A well-kept secret in 2016, José Peraza was one of the best players in the MLB without a position. Peraza logged time at just about every position for the Reds last season, with shortstop being his most common home. I know what you’re thinking…if the guy’s not good enough to play every day on a team like the Reds, how good could he really be? In Peraza’s case, the answer is really good. In just 72 games last season, the speedy 21-year-old hit .324 while also swiping 21 bags. If Peraza can find his way onto the field for a significant amount of games, he could bring even more speed to an already swift lineup.
Hunter Renfroe (SD) – The easy pick here would have been to go with Red Sox stud Andrew Benintendi. I went with the tougher choice in Renfroe. When this dude got to the majors in September 2016, all he did was become the first player to hit a home run that landed on top of the Western Metal Supply Company building during a game. It won’t be the last home run that he blasts out of Petco Park either. Although his top trait is his power (36 HRs in 154 AAA games), his career average still hovers around the .280 mark. His teammate Wil Myers turned in a breakout 2016 campaign, and Renfroe will look to follow suit in 2017.
Ivan Nova (PIT) – At this point, the ability of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage to get the most out of his guys cannot be overstated. Once he took Nova under his wing in the 2016 season, the 23-year-old starting seeing results. Of course, moving from Yankee Stadium to PNC Park helped a bit as well, but as a Pirate, Nova was 5-2 with an ERA of 3.06. One knock on Nova is that he doesn’t feature a scorching fastball or any trait that has the “wow” factor. He’s not a pitcher that will blow hitters away, but his finesse-centered approach is something that could suit him very well in the ‘Burgh.
Edwin Diaz (SEA) – If you’re not familiar with baseball out west, you may be drawing a blank when it comes to Edwin Diaz. You won’t be after the 2017 season. Initially moved into the bullpen to add a young arm, the Mariners viewed Diaz as a starter heading into the 2016 season. However, when Steve Cishek began to flounder in the closers’ role, the M’s decided to give Diaz a shot at it. He fit it perfectly. With an electric fastball that touches 100 MPH, partnered with a solid slider, he has all the tools a solid closer needs. Look for him to lock down plenty of games for Seattle this season, and do it in style.
Photo Credit: Houston Chronicle