Baseball season is always good for some surprises. Which MLB teams will provide those in 2017?
Why do the Braves have reason to be hopeful? Will MLB’s longest active postseason drought come to an end? What surprises will come out of the NL West? Will Chicago’s other team step up to rival the Cubs?
For the sake of this list, we’ll stay positive. Who do we expect to be surprisingly good?
Which eight MLB teams are poised to surprise in 2017?
The Braves have not enjoyed a lot of success over the last three seasons.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) February 7, 2017
So, why the optimism?
It really comes down to how the 2016 record came to be.
After 37 games in 2016, Brian Snitker replaced Fredi Gonzalez as manager. Under Snitker, Atlanta played at a .476 clip. That may not seem great, but the winning percentage under Gonzalez was a paltry .243.
Things got even better for Snitker and the Braves once rookie Dansby Swanson rolled into town. Swanson was with Atlanta for the season’s final 42 games. While he was there, the Braves played .571 baseball.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see playoff baseball return to Atlanta in 2017. At the very least, though, this is a team on the rise and stands ready to make the last three years a distant memory.
The Mariners have knocked on the postseason’s door in two of the last three seasons. In 2017, look for that door to finally get answered, thus ending MLB’s longest playoff drought.
From top to bottom, the Mariners have one of the best staring rotations in baseball. Offensively, the additions of Jean Segura and Danny Valencia should improve a group that, with Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager, was already potent.
The challenge with making the playoffs is that with the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, the American League West has two other teams that should be postseason bound. But that still leaves at worst another wild card spot for the Mariners.
Expect them to take that spot.
Seattle has one of the American League’s five best rosters. In fact, aside from the Cleveland Indians, the Mariners might have the AL’s most complete roster. While the M’s don’t have the overwhelming strengths of some of the other teams, they don’t have the glaring flaws, either. Every element of Seattle’s roster is solid.
It’s a roster that will be good enough to play October baseball for the first time in 16 years.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants run the National League West. It’s awfully hard to see that changing in 2017. But if one team is going to break that stranglehold, it’s Colorado.
As one of baseball’s best two-way players, Nolan Arenado is the headline grabber.
NOLAN ARENADO HAD MORE…
home runs, RBI (by a lot), total bases, XBH and #GoldGlove defense
…THAN ALL THE NL MVP FINALISTS. pic.twitter.com/EomzwOusPk
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) November 9, 2016
But offensively, the Rockies are so much more than one superstar. Arenado headlines a lineup that includes Trevor Story, Carlos Gonzalez, DJ LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon, Ian Desmond and David Dahl. That group doesn’t offer many breaks for opposing pitchers — especially at Coors Field.
Of course, playing half of the games at Coors Field brings a natural question. Can the pitching hold up?
It will be difficult, no doubt. But it’s been done before. Since 2011, Colorado has been one of baseball’s worst teams. That’s certainly been “aided” by abysmal pitching. But think back to the last six seasons. How many times have the Rockies had a pitcher that was clearly being hurt by Coors Field? In reality, Colorado just had bad pitchers, and those guys look even worse when pitching at altitude.
With Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood and Jon Gray, the 2017 Rockies have starters that at least give reasons for optimism. The same is true with Adam Ottavino and Greg Holland at the back end of the bullpen.
That may not be enough to better the Dodgers and Giants, who are two of the NL’s top teams. But it should be enough to lead the Rockies to a winning season and provide genuine hope for the future of Colorado baseball.
Chicago White Sox
In some ways, it appears as though the White Sox are fully embracing a rebuild in 2017. Chris Sale has been dealt to the Boston Red Sox. Adam Eaton has gone to the Washington Nationals. So, Chicago is without two of its best players from a 78-84 team.
But let’s not write off the 2017 White Sox as hopeless just yet.
Rookie shortstop Tim Anderson showed genuine promise in 2016.
Tim Anderson's 2.8 bWAR in 2016 is most by a #WhiteSox rookie position player (age 23 season or younger) since Tommie Agee (6.4) in 1966
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) January 25, 2017
He’ll be back on the South Side. Barring a trade, corner infielders Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier will also return. Those two combined for 65 home runs a season ago.
Additionally, four of the top five prospects in a now loaded farm system are expected to make it the majors in 2017. What happens if a few of those make an early impact?
There’s a great deal of potential on the Chicago roster. The White Sox are probably not a playoff team, but things are not hopeless. In fact, even without Sale and Eaton, we should expect to see Chicago better its record from 2016.
Times have been rough for the Phillies since 2011 when they won the last of five straight National League East championships. But with a strong, young nucleus, it’d be surprising to see another miserable year in Philadelphia.
The Phillies lineup includes six players (Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Michael Saunders, Freddy Galvis, Cameron Rupp, and Odubel Herrera) who hit 15 or more home runs in 2016. Even if we account for some regression, that will still be a tough lineup on National League pitchers.
The pitching is still a question mark, but there’s reason to be hopeful.
Youngsters Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, and especially Jerad Eickhoff, showed promise in 2016. They’ll slide nicely into the rotation with veterans Clay Buchholz and Jeremy Hellickson.
The closer role is a question mark. But if Jeanmar Gomez isn’t up to the task, veterans like Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek can at least provide some stability to the back end of the Philadelphia bullpen.
Obviously, this group is a long way from being as good as the Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, and Cole Hamels-led group that took the Phillies to five straight division championships, two pennants, and a World Series win.
But this is a young team that’s on its way up.
If that doesn’t show in Philadelphia’s final record this year, expect it to at least be reflected in how tough they play he NL’s best teams. This will not be a team that provides many easy victories.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have had three straight losing seasons. The worst of that group was a 68-94 record in 2016. Looking at the roster in 2017, it’s hard to imagine Tampa being anywhere near that bad again.
Evan Longoria, Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr., Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison, Colby Rasmus and Matt Duffy certainly looks like a decent lineup. There may not be a superstar there, but there isn’t an easy out in that group.
The Rays have a formidable starting rotation as well. Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell and Alex Cobb are a strong front four. Jose De Leon is one of the best prospects in baseball and should add to the strength of the rotation at some point during the season.
On top of that, the rest of the American League East is a question mark.
The Red Sox are far and away the best team. But do the New York Yankees or Baltimore Orioles have the starting pitching to contend? Can the Toronto Blue Jays withstand the loss of Edwin Encarnacion and the the rest of the team, which is aging fast?
The ingredients are in place for Tampa to be bounce back after three sub-par seasons.
San Diego Padres
For a team like the Padres, “surprising” is a relative term. We’re not expecting a playoff appearance or really even a winning season from San Diego in 2017. What we are expecting is a team that can provide some hope for light at the end of the tunnel that the Padres have been stuck in for the last six seasons.
The last two years have been especially bad. In 2015, San Diego made a series of offseason moves with hopes of immediately contending. The Friars went 74-88. For much of the 2016 season, optimism was hard to find. But at the end of that 68-94 campaign, some glimmers of hope emerged.
Manuel Margot had a tremendous Minor League season. Hunter Renfroe did as well, and he also showed massive power in his brief MLB time. Those two should see a lot of time at the front end of the Padres’ lineup in 2017, batting around star Wil Myers.
These aren’t players who are several years away. Margot and Renfroe are top prospects who are MLB ready right now. That should lead to a better record, and if nothing else, it will lead to more realistically high expectations in future seasons.
What the record will be remains to be seen. But regardless of wins and losses, expect 2017 to be a big step in the right direction for San Diego.
The 2016 season was a disaster for Minnesota. But while the record was putrid, a solid foundation for the future was built.
Brian Dozier is a star. The Twins will also get Max Kepler’s bat for a full year. He’s a raw hitter but nailed 17 home runs in only 396 at-bats during 2016.
Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios were both disappointing in 2016. But Buxton is 23 and Berrios is 22. They are both young enough to think that 2016 might have been a learning experience instead of a bad omen of things to come.
Remember, these were two of the highest-rated prospects in baseball not too long ago. It’s not like their talents just disappeared.
In 2015, a lot went right for a young Minnesota team. Everything that went right in 2015 went wrong in 2016.
But the talent and promise is still significant. With an extra year of MLB experience to draw from, that talent isn’t quite as raw, either. The Twins can certainly surprise in 2017.
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