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A Way-Too-Early 2016 MLB Mock Draft

With the NFL Draft having been on, it’s hard for us baseball nerds not to get excited about the MLB draft that’s a little over four weeks away. As many of you know, it is almost impossible to predict an MLB draft. In the NFL, teams are drafting to fill current needs and expect most prospects to be immediate impacts. We know this not to be the case in baseball. To keep it simple, the MLB draft is an absolute crapshoot. But that does not mean that we can’t have fun with it.

Without further ado, with the first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, the Philadelphia Phillies select:

1. LHP Jason Groome – Barnegat HS (NJ)

Before Brady Aiken was taken in 2014 by the Houston Astros, the last high-school pitcher taken first overall was Brien Taylor in 1991 by the New York Yankees. We all know how that ended up. However, as of right now, it would seem that Groome, who goes to school roughly 60 miles from Citizens Bank Park, is the consensus top prospect heading into the draft. At 6’6′ 220 pounds, Groome touches 96 mph, but sits 90-94 mph with his fastball. Groome could be a great addition to the Phillies already improved rotation, as he has the makings of a future ace. He has committed to play college baseball at Vanderbilt.

2. Cincinnati Reds – 3B Nick Senzel (Tennessee)

It would appear that Walt Jocketty and Dick Williams have been targeting MLB-ready players through offseason trades, acquiring players such as Scott Schebler, Jose Peraza, Rookie Davis, Caleb Cotham, and Eric Jagielo. They also have a history of taking college players in the first round such as Drew Stubbs (Texas), Yonder Alonso (Miami), and Mike Leake (Arizona State). As the best college bat in this draft class, Senzel seems like a perfect fit to go to the Reds. His all-fields approach at the plate should enable him to hit for both average and power at the next level. Look for Senzel to be a big piece to the Reds’ “quick rebuild.”

3. Atlanta Braves – OF Kyle Lewis (Mercer)

The Braves have not selected a college position player in over two decades. With a plethora of young pitching throughout their system, look for the Braves to break that trend. The Braves are also known to draft players out of their backyard, such as Brian McCann and Jason Heyward. In fact, many have referred to Kyle Lewis as a right-handed Jason Heyward without the defense. Many scouts believe he will end up in right field and that he could become a serious home-run threat in the league. Lewis will be the first ever player taken in the first round out of Mercer.

4. Colorado Rockies – LHP AJ Puk (Florida)

The search for an ace continues in Colorado. Three of their last five first-round picks have been used on college arms. If Puk happens to fall to them at 4, I would be very surprised if they passed up on him. At 6’7″ 230 pounds, Puk can touch 99 mph with his fastball. It will be interesting to see how his control and command translate to the next level. He could be the frontline starter that Colorado has been looking for in the past few drafts.

5. Milwaukee Brewers – RHP Riley Pint (St Thomas Aquinas HS – KS)

One of my favorite prospects in this draft is the Kansas high-school pitcher Riley Pint. At 6’4″ 210 pounds, Pint sits in the mid- to high 90s with his fastball and touched 102 mph this spring. He also features a plus curveball and changeup. His fastball is what fascinates me though. With his lower arm slot, his fastball has lots of movement. Here is where you will notice that I am a baseball nerd. When I first watched a clip of Pint, I immediately thought of White Sox prospect Tyler Danish. Obviously, Danish does not have Pint’s fastball, but you will understand my logic if you watch the video. With that said, Pint could be the best prep arm ever to come out of Kansas and is committed to play at LSU next year.

6. Oakland Athletics – OF Corey Ray (Louisville)

Everyone knows about Oakland’s love for college position players in the draft. In the past 14 years, their first-round pick has been a prep player only three times. He is currently slashing .318/.390/.597 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs. Ray is an above-average hitter with plus speed and tremendous athletic ability overall. He could bring a lot of value to a team playing center field at the next level.

7. Miami Marlins – OF Blake Rutherford (Chaminade College Prep – CA)

Rutherford is considered the best prep bat in the class. Due to being a 19-year-old senior, scouts have their concerns as the track record for older high-school players speaks for itself. However, that may mean quicker stints in the minor leagues. Rutherford is considered a five-tool player who will eventually end up in right field. He comes from the same school that produced Blue Jays OF Kevin Pillar and is committed to play college ball at UCLA.

8. San Diego Padres – SS Delvin Perez (International Baseball Academy – Puerto Rico)

We all know what happened to the last shortstop to come out of Puerto Rico. Before anyone becomes enraged, I am only kidding. I am not comparing Perez to Carlos Correa. However, Perez has his own uniqueness as a ball player. He is the definition of a “glove-first” shortstop, who has plenty of potential with the bat. Right now, he profiles as an Andrelton Simmons. If his bat develops, he will easily be a perennial All-Star. With his ceiling, it would be hard for AJ Preller to pass him up.

9. Detroit Tigers – RHP Dakota Hudson (Mississippi State)

For some reason, I feel like Hudson has Detroit Tigers written all over him. The Tigers have drafted their fair share of players from the SEC (James McCann and Jonathon Crawford). They also love their big-velocity pitchers, such as Beau Burrows. Hudson’s fastball touches 97 with some run and sink and also features a nasty high-80s slider with solid break. As of right now, Hudson has the look of a future frontline starter.

10. White Sox – OF Mickey Moniak (La Costa Canyon HS – CA)

The White Sox have emerged as one of the best teams in baseball through the first month of play. If they can keep this up, having a top-10 pick in the draft will enable them to beef up their farm system. The White Sox aren’t known for taking prep pitchers in the first round and the best available on the board here could be Moniak. This Southern California kid has committed to play at UCLA with fellow draftee Blake Rutherford. He has an advanced hit tool with a more contact-oriented swing, but lacks power at the moment. With his plus speed and defense, Moniak would be a safe pick at 10.

11. Seattle Mariners – RHP Connor Jones (UVA)

Before anyone says anything, I know the first person that comes to mind is Danny Hultzen. UVA pitchers also have an interesting track record in the major leagues. However, Seattle’s depleted farm system could use a win in this year’s draft. Jones is one of the safest picks at the top of this class. He has stepped in for Nathan Kirby as the Friday night starter and has shown the ability to lead the Cavalier’s staff. Jones throws a low- to mid 90s fastball with plus sink and a solid slider and changeup. This pick makes a lot of sense for Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners, even though I could also see them going after a bat to eliminate any risk with a pitcher.

12. Boston Red Sox – RHP Forrest Whitley (Alamo Heights HS – TX)

At this spot, with an already strong farm system, I expect the Red Sox to take the best available on the board. At 6’7″ 225 pounds, Whitley throws a 92-97 mph fastball with movement and has an above average curveball with good depth. Many believe he’s the best prep pitcher behind Riley Pint. He is committed to play at Florida State next year.

13. Tampa Bay Rays – RHP Ian Anderson (Shenendehowa HS – NY)

Last year, the Rays took a prep star (Garrett Whitley) from Upstate New York with the 13th overall pick. Right down the road from where Whitley went to school is an impressive prep pitcher named Ian Anderson. Looking at their impressive rotation of Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore, and eventually Blake Snell, the Rays are getting the reputation of developing their pitchers. Mike Nikorak was a northeastern prep pitcher who slid into the first round last year to the Rockies. With a 6’3″ 170 pound projectable frame, Anderson throws his fastball 91-95 mph with good downhill angle. He is committed to play at Vanderbilt next year.

14. Cleveland Indians – OF Buddy Reed (Florida)

Cleveland has shown that it values upside earlier in the draft with picks such as Brady Aiken at 17th overall last year. Reed has above-average speed with above-average defensive skills, but his overall stock will be determined by the amount that he hits. At 6’4″ 185, he has a projectable build that should be able to stay in center field. His overall high ceiling will get him selected in the first round.

15. Minnesota Twins – LHP Joey Wentz (Shawnee Mission East HS – KS)

Wentz was originally being looked at as a first baseman as he blasted a 543ft shot at Great American Ballpark last summer. There is no question that his future as a pitcher looks more promising. With 6’5″ 210 pound frame, Wentz has a fastball that sits between 90-95 mph with a plus curveball and changeup. He has a clean delivery and athleticism to go along with his big frame. Wentz is committed to play at UVA next year.

16. Los Angeles Angels – LHP Braxton Garrett (Florence HS – AL)

With the current state of the Angels farm system, they are best off by taking the best available. They have a tendency to go with pitching at the top of their drafts. Garret is a 6’3″ 190 pound lefty prep star out of Alabama. Scouts claim he has one of the best curveballs in this class with a fastball that sits 90-94 mph and has late life. Many say that he has the ceiling of a future No. 2 starter. He is one of the many commitments to play at Vanderbilt next year.

17. Houston Astros – 3B Josh Lowe (Pope HS – GA)

The Astros’ farm system is loaded; therefore, they can afford to go with a high-ceiling pick. Lowe has raw power, as you see in that video, with his 6’4″ frame. With his plus speed and arm strength, he could play either third base or the outfield. If hitting does not work out, some scouts claim he’s the best prep pitcher to come out of Georgia since Zack Wheeler. Lowe can reach mid 90s with his fastball and is committed to play at Florida State next year.

18. New York Yankees – RHP Kevin Gowdy (Santa Barbara HS – CA)

The Yankees have been successful with their Southern California prospects and have also been targeting pitching in the top rounds. Gowdy comes from the same high school as former White Sox prospect Dylan Axelrod and Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs. At 6’4″ 170 pounds, Gowdy has a projectable frame with three above-average pitches (fastball, slider, change). His fastball sits 92-93 mph, but it is easy to imagine increased velocity in his future. Gowdy is committed to play at UCLA next year.

19. New York Mets – RHP Matt Manning (Sheldon HS – CA)

The Mets have accumulated tons of pitching in the past few years with one of the best, if not THE best, rotation in baseball right now. I could see them targeting a prep pitcher with tons of upside like Matt Manning, son of former NBA player Rich Manning. His spring season has been cut short due to a deep playoff run for basketball. At 6’6″ 185 pounds, Manning uses every inch of his tall frame throwing his fastball 96-97 mph. He is committed to play at Loyola Marymount next year.

20. Los Angeles Dodgers – RHP Cal Quantrill (Stanford)

Dodgers are known to target high upside early in the draft. Last year, they drafted injury-prone pitcher Walker Buehler from Vanderbilt and the struggling Kyle Funkhouser from Louisville. If it wasn’t for Tommy John last spring, Quantrill would have been a top-10 pick this year. He is the son of former big league reliever Paul Quantrill and has an advanced feel for pitching, which should enable him to move quickly through the minors. Quantrill has four pitches that could be major-league average. This is a high-risk, high-reward pick that I would not be surprised seeing the Dodgers take at 20th overall.

21. Toronto Blue Jays – C Zack Collins (Miami)

Collins is the definition of a “bat-first” player. He is destroying the baseball this year in the ACC with a walk total that is double his strikeout total. Collins seems to be a better fit in the AL where he could potentially DH and he has drawn some comparisons to Evan Gattis/Kyle Schwarber type. Scouts aren’t sure if he will stick behind the dish, but he has to potential to put up 20-plus homers annually.

22. Pittsburgh Pirates – OF Alex Kirillof (Plum HS – PA)

In 2004, the Pirates selected local prep star Neil Walker with the 11th overall pick. Walker has now departed via an offseason trade to the Mets for LHP Jon Niese. I wouldn’t be surprised if Huntington and the gang select local star Kirillof if he falls to them at 22. Kirillof has explosive bat speed and power from the left side of the plate and is projected to be a corner outfielder. He is committed to play at Liberty next year, but signability should not be an issue.

23. St. Louis Cardinals – RHP Jordan Sheffield (Vanderbilt)

Sheffield’s brother Justus was a first round pick of the Indians in 2014. Out of all the pitchers in this draft class, Sheffield may have the best chance of developing his three plus offerings. His fastball touches 98 mph and sits 94-96 mph. However, like many power pitchers, he comes with injury concerns after having Tommy John surgery in 2013. His size and explosive stuff draws comparisons to the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman, but it also leads to concerns about his durability as a starter. If anyone can develop Sheffield, it’s the model team of major-league baseball.

24. San Diego Padres – 3B Will Craig (Wake Forest)

This pick is for free agent Justin Upton signing with the Detroit Tigers. Due to pick a prep bat early on in the draft, I can see the Padres going with a college bat here. Preller has a love for high-ceiling talent and could look to add a power bat like Will Craig. Do you know when the last time a Wake Forest player was drafted in the first round? In 2008, Allan Dykstra was drafted 23rd overall by the SAN DIEGO PADRES. Am I on to something here? Probably not. At 6’3″ 235 pounds, Craig draws comparisons to Billy Butler. Stay with me here Padres fans, I don’t mean to scare you off that quickly. Craig has impressive bat speed with his right-handed swing and many see him having 20-plus homer seasons with high OBPs due to his command of the strike zone.

25. San Diego Padres – RHP Jared Horn (Vintage HS – CA)

This pick is for free agent Ian Kennedy signing with the Kansas City Royals. After taking a college and prep bat, the Padres could go after a talented prep pitcher. The 6’3″ Northern California prep pitcher may be one of the more underrated arms on the board. His fastball is consistently 94-96 mph and many scouts love his competitiveness on the mound (starting quarterback for high school team). He is committed to play at the University of California-Berkeley next year.

26. Chicago White Sox – OF Bryan Reynolds (Vanderbilt)

This pick is for free agent Jeff Samardzija signing with the San Francisco Giants. After taking a prep bat, the White Sox could target a safe college bat with three years of consistent performance. Reynolds is one of the more well-rounded players with solid speed and defense, but his below-average arm has left field written all over it. Reynolds will not kill you with any one particular tool, but he could be a solid average major-league performer.

27. Baltimore Orioles – RHP Robert Tyler (Georgia)

This pick is for free agent Wei-Yin Chen signing with the Miami Marlins. The Orioles need to start stockpiling on pitching and I wouldn’t be surprised if they targeted a college arm with this pick. Their current MLB rotation is below average and they have not done a great job of developing top prospects Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey. Tyler was previously drafted by the Orioles in 2013 in the 28th round out of high school. However, he would have gone in the top five rounds if he were signable. He has one of the best fastballs in this draft, which sits 92-95 mph as a starter. Tyler is tough to hit due to his steep downward plane, but some scouts see him ending up in a bullpen.

28. Washington Nationals – SS Nolan Jones (Holy Ghost Prep – PA)

This pick is for free agent Jordan Zimmermann signing with the Detroit Tigers. This year, there could be two prep bats out of Pennsylvania taken in the first round. Jones has good bat speed and raw power from the left side. Currently, he plays shortstop in high school, but many scouts feel that his 6’4″ frame will profile better at third. He is committed to play at UVA next year.

29. Washington Nationals – LHP Kyle Muller (Jesuit College Prep – TX)

This pick is for free agent Ian Desmond signing with the Texas Rangers. Texas prep pitcher, Kyle Muller, is from the same school that produced Pirates top prospect Josh Bell. While he is more impressive on the mound, Muller has also battled for the national high-school lead in homers. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but can touch 95 mph. Muller has one of the best bodies in the draft at 6’5″ 230 pounds and is committed to play at the University of Texas next year.

30. Texas Rangers – RHP Cody Sedlock (Illinois)

This pick is for free agent Yovani Gallardo signing with the Baltimore Orioles. In the last three drafts, the Rangers have used their top pick on a pitcher. Last year, the Twins took Illinois left hander Tyler Jay with the sixth overall pick. Sedlock has done very well this year in his transition to the rotation with 90 strikeouts and 24 walks in 11 starts. He has all the tools of a starter with four solid pitches, command of the strike zone, and the ability to generate ground balls. Sedlock’s best pitcher is his sinker that sits 91-93 mph.

31. New York Mets – 3B Drew Mendoza (Lake Minneola HS – FL)

This pick is for free agent Daniel Murphy signing with the Washington Nationals. If they go after a pitcher with their first pick, look for them to target a prep bat. At 6’4″ 195 pounds, he has a tremendous feel for hitting which should generate some power at the next level. With his great arm strength, he projects better as a third baseman. Mendoza is committed to play at Florida State next year.

32. Los Angeles Dodgers – OF William Benson (The Westminster School – GA)

This pick is for free agent Zack Greinke signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks. After taking a high-risk, high-upside college arm, look for them to roll the dice on a high-risk, high-ceiling prep bat in William Benson. Many scouts have referred to the Atlanta prep star as Jason Heyward 2.0. Both were high-school prospects in Atlanta, have similar builds, and tremendous athletes. Benson stands 6’6″ 220 and has tremendous bat speed which give him above-average power. At the next level, many project him to move from center to right field. Benson is committed to play at Duke next year.

33. St. Louis Cardinals – C Matt Thaiss (UVA)

This pick is for free agent John Lackey signing with the Chicago Cubs. After taking a college pitcher, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cardinals target a college or prep bat. At UVA, Thaiss has been consistent with the bat, but extremely raw behind the dish. Scouts are not sure if he will stick at catcher when he gets to the next level.

34. St. Louis Cardinals – OF Taylor Trammell (Mount Paran Christian School – GA)

This pick is for free agent Jason Heyward signing with the Chicago Cubs. At 6’2″ 195, the Cardinals would be getting an athlete to say the least with Taylor Trammell. He was the Georgia Class A Offensive Football Player of the Year after rushing for 2,479 yards and 36 touchdowns. When it comes to baseball, he is very raw offensively and defensively. As he is learning to recognize pitches and tap into his raw power, scouts give him a 70 grade for his speed. Trammell is committed to play at Georgia Tech next year.

There it is folks. That is my best or most educated guess on a mock draft about four weeks out. In the meantime, things can change. One of the pitchers in this group could go down with an injury or a prep star could announce that he will be attending school regardless of where he’s drafted. With that said, I hope you all enjoy this and have as much fun with this as I did.

The Pirates’ Inability to Move Runners

The first week of April in Pittsburgh felt like a National League Division Series in the midst of October with tons of energy and excitement. Francisco Liriano threw six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and led the Pirates to a game 1 win. In game 2, the Pirates revived some late-inning magic from 2015 and walked off in the 11th on a Jordy Mercer single down the first base line. In game 3, Juan Nicasio showed many that his spring training stats were not a fluke and led the Pirates to a 5-1 win. The Pirates started 2016 with a three-game sweep of the division rival St. Louis Cardinals and “yinzers” were ecstatic. FanGraphs’ very own Jeff Sullivan wrote a piece examining the changes in playoff odds after just one week of play. His chart had the Pirates’ odds increasing by seven percentage points, while the Cardinals’ odds decreased by almost five percentage points. While it was only the first series of the season between the two teams, it still meant something. However, since that series, the Pirates have faced many ups and downs. Let me elaborate.

Before entering the 2016 season, one major concern of a Pirates’ fan could have been the rotation that they decided to bring north, which consisted of Francisco Lirano, Gerrit ColeJon NieseJuan Nicasio, and Jeff Locke. You will not mistake this rotation with the Mets’ fab four or the Indians’ top three anytime soon. The other night, Jeff Locke surrendered 11 hits and eight earned runs in just three innings against a Padres offense who struggled to score a run in their opening series of the season. On Tuesday night, Liriano returned from a “hamstring injury” by giving up two homers and walking five. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel with former number-two overall pick Jameson Taillon and top prospect Tyler Glasnow nearing their debuts. Believe it or not, pitching may not be the Pirates’ primary concern at the moment.

In the past three years, as an avid fan of the Pirates, I have noticed an ongoing inability to move runners and take advantage of any sort of small-ball approach. Therefore, I decided to take a look at the numbers. Through the first 15 games of 2016, the Pirates are last in the league with 9.33 runners left on base per game. Minnesota comes in a distant second with 7.93 runners left on base per game. Now, I am very well aware of the small sample size. It is very easy to be overwhelmed by early-season statistics, such as Gerrit Cole starting with an 0-2 record and a 4.22 ERA, but we are only 15 games into a 162-game season and there are many more important statistics than ERA. While the Pirates are leaving the most runners on base per game, they are also sporting the highest team OBP (.380) in the league. Coming in second is the St. Louis Cardinals with a .348 team OBP. Due to the small sample size, I decided to take a look at the past two seasons where I have also noticed their inability to move runners.

In 2015, the Pirates came in dead last in all of baseball with 7.22 runners left on base per game. However, they sported a top-10 OBP of .323, which was not far behind the league’s best OBP of .340 by the Toronto Blue Jays. Lets take another step back. In 2014, the Pirates finished 29th in the league with 7.35 runners left on base per game. The only team to leave more runners on base that year was the Tampa Bay Rays (7.36). Surprisingly, the Pirates finished third in team OBP (.330) trailing only the Detroit Tigers (.331) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (.333).

Interpret this however you may like, but it is apparent that the Pirates lack a very important skillset of moving runners, or executing successful situational baseball. In the past three years, the Pirates have finished in the top 10 in stolen bases. While this statistic is by no means the only measure of team speed, it is very clear that the Pirates have some speed and athleticism in their lineup among guys like Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Josh Harrison, and Jordy Mercer. These are not guys that should be taken lightly on the base paths. According to Moneyball, Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s went after undervalued position players who had a knack for getting on base, thus, scoring more runs. So far, the Pirates are getting on base more than anybody this year. With better pitching performances from their rotation and moving runners more efficiently, whether that’s through more smallball or just better situational hitting, the Pirates could easily be one of the better teams in the league this year. Don’t lose hope too early, Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh’s Next Reclamation Project

During the past three seasons in Pittsburgh, Ray Searage has worked his magic to rejuvenate the careers of struggling pitchers. From increasing the usage of a two-seam fastball to induce ground balls and having a pitch framing expert behind the dish, the Pirates rotation has raised a few eyebrows. A few key pitchers that benefited from Searage were AJ BurnettFrancisco LirianoEdinson VolquezJA Happ, and many more. After seeing the success of these four pitchers, it becomes very difficult to doubt a pitching acquisition made by the Pirates. Therefore, who will be Searage’s next project?

On December 9, the Pirates agreed to send soon-to-be-free-agent second basemen Neil Walker to the Mets in exchange for veteran left-hander Jon Niese. Niece was drafted by the Mets in the 7th round in 2005 out of Defiance High School in western Ohio. Since 2010, he has been a consistent innings eater for the Mets rotation known for inducing a ton of ground balls. In 2012, Niese sported a 13-9 record with a 3.40 ERA and a career-high 2.6 WAR. From 2010 to 2014, Niese was consistently a 2 WAR pitcher, which would project as an average to above-average mid-rotation starter. However, in 2015, he struggled at times and posted a career low 0.9 WAR. Even though he posted a career high 55% ground ball percentage, he was not missing bats much with his 5.8 K/9. It’s safe to say that Niese is seeking a rebound in 2016 and he has come to the right place.

Heading into the 2016 season, I am very high on Jon Niese and believe he fits perfectly in a Pirates rotation managed by Ray Searage. Niese has a repertoire that includes a sinker, cutter, and four-seam fastball that will induce many ground balls. With their statistical findings on defensive alignments outlined in Big Data Baseball by Travis Sawchik, the Pirates could use Niese to their advantage. When looking into some of Niese’s pitch-usage data, I found his situation comparable to that of J.A. Happ. After acquiring a struggling Happ from Seattle during last summer’s trade deadline, Searage noticed a decrease in the usage of his fastball and encouraged him to be more aggressive. Happ adjusted his approach almost immediately and put up an impressive 7-2 record with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts. So how does Jon Niese’s struggles compare to Happ’s? I found my answer after referring to for pitch-usage data in his 2012 season and 2015 season. In 2012, Niese threw his four-seam fastball at 35.7 percent compared to 20.2 percent in 2015. This is a significant difference in a matter of only four seasons. I would also like to note that he reduced his cutter usage by almost 7 percent in that time span.

Upon his return to Pittsburgh, I am expecting Searage to take a similar approach with Niese as he did with Happ. Increasing the fastball usage and being more aggressive will only benefit Niese with an even better defense behind him. Steamers projects Niese to repeat at a 5.8 K/9 in 2016. However, Fans projections sees him returning to a 6.4 K/9. Let’s not forget that he is throwing to pitch-framing extraordinaire Francisco Cervelli, which may work in his favor to get more strikes. While I believe that he will be able to miss a few more bats than last year, his main strength will be pitching to contact and inducing ground balls into the many defensive alignments behind him.

While the Pirates’ projected rotation may seem a bit top-heavy at the moment, look for Niese to be a solid #3 behind Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. By mid season, the Pirates rotation could be a force with the debuts of top prospect Tyler Glasnow and former second overall draft pick Jameson Taillon. In October, while many may disagree now, watch for the Pirates to be declared the winner of the offseason swap with the Mets.

Indians Are Legit Contenders in 2016

As a Pittsburgh native and a lifelong “yinzer,” it feels quite awkward writing about future success up in that city on the lake that they call Cleveland. While there are certainly some question marks about the current roster, there is also a lot to be excited about. As I was looking through the 2016 Steamer projections the other day, I thought it would be fun to compare the Indians 2016 rotation to the New York Mets 2016 rotation. Before I go into my findings, I would like to add that I am not declaring the Indians’ rotation to be on the same elite level as the Mets’ rotation right now. I am merely comparing some advanced statistics and showing the great potential of this young rotation.

If the season were to start tomorrow, the Indians would have this 5-man rotation:

  1. Corey Kluber
  2. Carlos Carrasco
  3. Danny Salazar
  4. Trevor Bauer
  5. Josh Tomlin

The “KluBot” has been a strikeout machine since becoming a regular in the Indians rotation in 2013. He is known for his cutter, fastball, and changeup that produce a high number of swing and misses. His sinker has above-average velocity and produces a lot of groundballs. We also can’t forget that slider that has outstanding depth. That gives him a five-pitch repertoire, which makes him incredibly effective. The 2016 Steamer projections have Kluber producing a 3.04 FIP, 5.3 WAR, and a 9.5 K/9. These numbers represent a true ace and that’s what we should expect from the former Cy Young Award winner.

After spending most of 2014 as a reliever, Carrasco emerged as a starter this past season and made a strong 30 starts for the Indians. Carrasco has been effective by throwing all five of his pitches with the same intensity and producing a lot of whiffs. He has a fastball that sits around 96 mph, a changeup and slider that sits around 89 mph, a curve that sits in the mid 80’s, and a sinker that is thrown around the same speed as his four-seam. Steamer projects Carrasco to produce an excellent 2.96 FIP with a 4.8 WAR and 9.7 K/9. Carrasco should continue to be a valuable workhorse for the Indians in 2016.

At only 25 years old, Danny Salazar was able to make 30 starts for the Indians in 2016 along with Carrasco. Salazar has the ability to throw six solid pitches, which includes his four-seam, cutter, splitter, sinker, slider, and curve. His cutter, four-seam, and sinker all show above-average velocity and generate a large number of groundballs. Steamer projects Salazar to generate a 3.53 FIP, 3.2 WAR, and 9.4 K/9. As a spectator, it is easy to be fascinated by high velocity numbers. However, I have always been a huge fan of a pitcher that can put the ball on the ground and get quick outs. These three pitchers have done that very well early in their career, which should benefit the Indians in the long run.

Trevor Bauer has been an interesting player up to this point in his career. Unlike the first three pitchers, Bauer produces a lot more fly balls on the mound. The Indians will most likely start him in the rotation in 2016, but I think a move to the bullpen is inevitable. We have seen a few unsuccessful starters rejuvenate their careers in the pen, such as Wade Davis and Andrew Miller. For now, I believe that Bauer can still be a workhorse number 4 starter and give the Indians some good innings. Steamers projects Bauer to produce a 4.39 FIP, 1.2 WAR, and 8.3 K/9.

Like Bauer, Josh Tomlin has been known to produce more fly balls that most. However, he is a solid number five starter with below-average velocity on his four-seam and sharp 12-6 curve. Last year, Tomlin put up a 7-2 record with a 3.02 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in just ten starts. Steamer projects Tomlin to generate a 4.07 FIP, 1.5 WAR, and 7.2 K/9 in 2016. Tomlin is not going to overpower anybody, but will provide a good amount of innings at the back end of the rotation.

Below, I have listed the projected Mets rotation for opening day 2016 along with steamers projections.

  1. Jacob deGrom – 3.18 FIP, 4.4 WAR, 9.3 K/9
  2. Matt Harvey – 3.11 FIP, 4.6 WAR, 9.2 K/9
  3. Noah Syndergaard – 3.07 FIP, 4.1 WAR, 9.9 K/9
  4. Steven Matz – 3.66 FIP, 2.3 WAR, 8.8 K/9
  5. Bartolo Colon – 3.90 FIP, 1.3 WAR, 6.4 K/9

There is no doubt that the Mets have the best rotation in the league right now. It will only get better in June once Zack Wheeler makes his return from Tommy John and Bartolo moves to the bullpen. When comparing these two rotations, I found that the Indians have a slightly higher FIP of 3.59 compared to the Mets FIP of 3.38. However, compared to league average, both of these FIPs would be considered above average. When comparing the WAR of both rotations, the Mets are projected at 16.7 and the Indians are at 16 (just a 0.7 win difference). Last but not least, the Indians rotation projects to sit around an 8.8 K/9, while the Mets rotation projects to be at an 8.7 K/9. While this is not a huge difference, I found it eye-catching that the Indians rotation were projected at a higher K/9 than the likes of deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard, and Matz. This is one of many reasons to be excited about this young Indians rotation going into the 2016 season.

After looking at the rotations, I took a sneak peek at the projected bullpens for each team. Before even looking at the steamer projections, I saw more promise in the Indians bullpen. With Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Zach McAllister in the later innings and Jeff Manship, Shawn Armstrong, Kyle Crockett, and Austin Adams in middle relief, the Indians bullpen is by no means excellent. However, there is some potential with the young hard-throwers of Allen, McAllister, and Armstrong. The Mets are projected to have Jeurys Familia, Addison Reed, and Hansel Robles in the later innings along with Carlos Torres, Sean Gilmartin, Erik Goeddel, and Logan Verrett in middle relief. The Indians pen is projected to have better numbers across the board in FIP, WAR, K/9, and many other key statistics. However, both teams will be relying on their great starters to go the distance in many games.

Offensively, I have been hearing many Indians fans getting frustrated over a lack of big offseason moves by Chernoff and Antonetti to improve their lineup. Personally, I do not see a reason to worry just yet. Michael Brantley is expected to be back early in the season and Rajai Davis will play his role of a fourth outfielder for most of the season. I would be content with Rajai Davis being my fourth outfielder, even though he’s mostly limited to the corners. Abraham Almonte is not the most exciting player, but it could be a lot worse (Michael Bourn) and he should provide some defensive value. If anything, the Indians should look to add a third basemen. One person that comes to mind is David Freese, who is projected at a .320 wOBA, 101 wRC+, and a 1.2 WAR. Even though we have seen a small sample of Urshela, those numbers would provide a huge upgrade at third base. Also, a healthy Yan Gomes should provide some value behind the dish for this young staff. Entering the 2015 season, many were skeptical about the Mets offense and they were projected to produce around the same WAR as the season before (18.2). Steamers projects the Indians’ batters to produce a WAR of 18.4 in 2016.

The hard truth is that we don’t know who will underperform or over perform their projections before the season starts. Lindor could end up being a 5-WAR player rather than a 3-WAR player and Kipnis could be a 1-WAR player rather than a 3-WAR player. These are purely just projections based off past performances and league averages. I chose to compare these teams because I see a lot of similarities. Until adding Yoenis Cespedes during the trade deadline this past season, the Mets offense looked underwhelming, but survived with a strong staff. Going into the 2016 season most likely without Cespedes, the Mets offense still has question marks. However, with their strong rotation, they should be right at the top of the NL East along with the Washington Nationals once again. With Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar, I see three powerful and healthy arms that produce a ton of groundballs and strikeouts. The offense will survive with this powerful rotation and decent bullpen. Therefore, as a Pittsburgh native, I urge my fellow Believelanders to get excited about this young team in 2016 as I believe they have the potential to be something special.

Hope you enjoy and had a happy New Years!