The wait is finally over. We’ve waited a long 5 months for this. Starting today, games in MLB will go down that actually count. Starting today, every team starts out tied for first (or last, if you’re a glass-half-empty kind of guy) in their respective divisions.
To start off the MLB season, 3 games will be played today, and the rest of the teams will play tomorrow. The Rays and Yankees kick off the MLB season today at 1:10 PM EST on ESPN. Then, at 4:10 EST, the Giants and Diamondbacks face off against each other in the 2nd game of the MLB season on ESPN2. Then comes to the main event of the evening, where the defending champion Chicago Cubs take on their long time division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals at 8:35 EST on ESPN. Boy, am I pumped to finally watch some baseball games that count.
What I’ll be doing in this article is looking at 3 specific players in each of those 3 games that you should keep an eye on while watching a Major League Baseball game for the first time since September of 2016.
Yankees vs Rays
Greg Bird, 1B Yankees
To start off this list, we have the projected Yankees starting 1B of 2017, Gregory Bird. Bird burst onto the scene in 2015, hitting 11 HR in just 46 games while putting up a slash line of .261/.343/.529 and a 137 wRC+, very impressive stats for a rookie. Unfortunately, during the 15-16 offseason, he suffered a torn labrum which forced him to miss all of the 2016 season. But it looks like he’s recovered from his injury, hitting to an outstanding slash line .451/.556/1.098/1.654 while powering out 8 HR and also 16 XBH altogether. 2017 could be a big year for Bird, as I should also mention he has the advantage of playing 82 games at Yankees Stadium which has a short RF porch, highly beneficial for left-handers. Personally, I’m very much looking forward to seeing how Bird does this 2017 campaign.
Kevin Kiermaier, OF Rays
Recently signed to a 6 year, 53.5M extension by the Rays, up next we have Rays OF Kevin Kiermaier. This guy is just so damn fun to watch. If you don’t know much about Kevin Kiermaier, he can be described as superman out there in CF. Over the past two seasons, Kiermaier has put up an outstanding 67 DRS (defensive runs saved), which isn’t just first among OF in the MLB, it’s first in the whole league over the timespan, with the next closest player being Angels SS Andrelton Simmons at 43. So…… yeah, Kevin Kiermaier is kind of good defensively, which makes him so fun to watch. On the offensive side, he’s still got work to do. Last season he had a .246/.331/.410 slash line while hitting 12 HR in his injury-shortened 2016 season. That’s certainly not terrible, but it definitely could improve. It’ll be interesting to see how much better Kevin Kiermaier can get, especially coming off the extension he recently signed with the Rays.
Giants vs Diamondbacks
Madison Bumgarner, SP Giants
And now we move onto Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. Over the past 4 years, this guy has proved he’s one of the game’s top pitchers, having an ERA below 3.00 in every season of the past 4 years, pitching to a 9.41 K/9 and 20.4% K-BB over that timespan, and also having a postseason that will be remembered for ages in 2014. There’s no question Bumgarner is one of the game’s top pitchers, but he’s yet to take home the highest award possible for a pitcher to achieve: the Cy Young Award, something I’m sure he’s got his eyes on going into this season. Obviously, though, he will have steep competition that starts off with the consensus best pitcher on the planet Clayton Kershaw, who plays for MadBum’s Giants’ division rival LA Dodgers. Will this be the year Madison can finally win the Cy Young? We’ll see.
A.J. Pollock, OF Diamondbacks
Diamondbacks OF A.J. Pollock comes up next in our rundown. A.J. Pollock looked like he was one of the top players in baseball in 2015, bursting onto the scene with a .315/.367/.498 slash line while hitting 20 HR, swiping 39 bags while also playing stellar defense in CF, as shown by his 14 DRS and 6.7 UZR. Unfortunately for Pollock and the Dbacks, he only playing 12 games at the end of the 2016 season, as his season was cut short by a broken elbow that he suffered while sliding into home plate in a 2016 Spring Training Game. He kind of struggled this spring, hitting .143/.286/.371 with 2 HR. I’m looking forward to seeing how A.J. Pollock does this season as just 2 years ago he looked like a star, and the question is can he return to that form? Hopefully, we’ll see.
Cubs vs Cardinals
Kyle Schwarber, OF Cubs
And now we have the catcher-converted OF Kyle Schwarber. A former 4th overall pick and top 10 prospect, Schwarber hit .246/.355/.487 with 16 HR in his first season in 2015, playing in 69 games and also splitting time between C and OF. However, he only played in 2 games in 2016 after suffering a season-ending leg injury after colliding with then teammate Dexter Fowler in the OF. Schwarber, who was drafted as and played a little bit of catcher in 2015, will likely spend all his time in the OF this year with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero likely to assume most of the catching duties. As a catcher, Schwarber was looked as having a below average arm and below average overall defensively behind the plate. Although he’s still a below-average defensive LF, his defense hurts his team way less out there than it would behind the plate. But Schwarber’s calling card isn’t his defense, it’s his bat. We’ll see how much Schwarber’s leg injury hurts the little athleticism he had. But he is still expected to be a great hitter, and many people are looking forward to seeing Schwarber in action in a regular season game for the first time in a year.
Carlos Martinez, SP Cardinals
Last but not least, we have the Dominican right-hander Carlos Martinez. Martinez had a great year last season, pitching to a 3.04 ERA, 3.61 FIP, and 8.02 K/9 while also nearing the 200 inning mark with 195 innings. His 2016 season followed a great 2015 season in which he put up a 3.01 ERA, 3.21 FIP, and 9.22 K/9 while logging out 179 innings. Over the past 2 years, as shown, Martinez has lived up to his billing as a top-of-the-rotation starter and the Cardinals awarded him with the Opening Day nod against the rival Cubs. A concern some people had with Martinez early in his career was his control, and while it’s still not spectacular, it’s at least average which is certainly passable and improvable for the 25-year-old right-hander. A concern that remains with Martinez is that occasionally he gets too excited on the mound and overthrows his pitches, something that’s not a huge concern, but could use some work. The Cardinals are handing him the keys to the pitching staff, indirectly declaring him the ace of the staff by naming him the opening day starter. Can Martinez respond to this and get better than he already is and become a legit ace on the top of the rotation? We’ll see.
Photo via USATSI
All stats via Fangraphs.com