About Matt Huddleston

I'm a guy who loves baseball. It is such a great game. I do not, however, have a favorite team that I cheer for. I just root for my favorite players.

Q and A With Daniel Norris

Daniel Norris was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, after going 8-2 with a 2.24 ERA his senior year at Science Hill High School in Tennessee.

norrisSince the draft, Norris has posted some decent stats in the majors after making a unique progression through the minors. Following a couple of poor seasons in 2012 and 2013, Norris absolutely flew through the minors in 2014, jumping from High-A all the way to the big leagues, and going a combined 12-2 with a 2.53 ERA over the course of 25 minor leagues starts that season with three different teams.

After making his MLB debut in September of 2014, Norris spent quite a bit of time back in Triple-A in 2015, making just five more starts with Toronto before being traded to the Tigers at the trade deadline. Following that, Norris made eight starts for Detroit, in which he pitched some of the best baseball he had in his big league career to that point.

In 2016, Norris made just 13 big league starts due to some injuries, but continued to prove to the baseball world that he is in fact a major league quality pitcher, posting a 3.38 ERA over the course of his 69.1 innings. Moving into 2017, it should be exciting to see how Daniel Norris is able to make an even bigger name for himself as an impact pitcher.

Daniel Norris — pitcher for the Detroit Tigers — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

Honestly, for as long as I can remember baseball was my gig. It was and still is what I think about before falling asleep. Whether that be my next start or simply playing catch the next day — that passion has always been extremely strong. Growing up, my favorite player was Chipper jones. I loved watching him play the game with such a silky smooth essence about him. Truth be told, I could count Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez as an influence in ‘The Sandlot’. The kid just loved the game more than anyone. I can relate.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

I guess I answered that in question number one. But to reiterate, Chipper carried that old-school baseball approach into the later years of his career, even when the game was starting to change and get younger. I respected his desire to keep the game gritty rather than flashy.

3.) You were drafted by the Blue Jays in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Initial thoughts?

I feel like that process for me was a little different than some, I suppose. All along, leading up to the draft, I was told by everyone that I was a sure-fire first rounder. I started to believe them. But when the draft came around I fell to the second [round] because of . . . well, it was just God’s plan. So through that time, disappointment was unavoidable. But shortly after, I realized how incredibly blessed I was to even have an opportunity to play at the next level. So God played a huge part in understanding the stepping stones of pro ball for me.

4.) You broke out in 2014 to have a very special season. That year, you went from High-A in April all the way up to the majors in September. Did you find the rapid ascension overwhelming at times, or was it just one of those seasons where everything came together?

It would be easy to say that everything just kinda came together, but it wouldn’t be entirely true. It was up to the Jays system to challenge me, and I just accepted the challenge each time. I work extremely hard. And I expect for it to pay off. That year my work off of the field started to translated to the mound.

5.) The following year, you were traded to the Tigers mid-season. Switching organizations halfway through the year, did you find the trade somewhat difficult to adjust to or did you quickly adapt to your new home?

The trade definitely came as a surprise to me, but I was welcomed with open arms by my new team. I was stoked on a new place to call home and kind of a start fresh. Sometimes that’s what you need in order to reset yourself and refocus on what is truly important to you and your career.

6.) Despite the success you had in 2015, you also spent a good portion of the season pitching with a secret. Unbeknownst to nearly everyone around baseball, you had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer but chose to finish out the season. How did your diagnosis affect you on the mound?

There’s no doubt that was a wicked curveball thrown my way, but I 100-percent believe that was God’s way of telling me to appreciate everyday I get to put on a uniform. At that time, when I found out, I was pressing on the mound. I had been sent to Triple-A, and I was trying to make my way back up to the big leagues, living and dying by every pitch. But those circumstances immediately made me remember what it was like to just have fun between the lines.

7.) On a lighter note — it’s one of the questions I’m sure you’re asked the most about, but it’s so intriguing to so many people that I would be remiss to not bring it up. Every year since 2011, you’ve spent portions of the offseason living out of a 1978 VW microbus nicknamed “Shaggy”. During those times, what does your typical day consist of?

There’s a bit of a misconception with that. Some people seem to think I spend the entire offseason living out of the van, skipping workouts, and just running around on the beach [laughs]. I have home base in Tennessee where I spend a lot of time working out twice a day. I’m extremely focused on my career and development of my body. That being said, I frequently take camping trips that can range up to a few weeks at a time (still working out everyday on the road). Then, when it’s time to go down to Florida for spring training, I pack up the van in the middle of January and live in it until pitchers and catchers report toward the end of February.

8.) Playing alongside some great pitchers in your career to this point, such as Justin Verlander this past season, what kind of things have you been able to pick up from them that has helped you on the mound?

I honestly don’t have enough space to put in here what Ver[lander] has taught me. I like to watch and learn, and he is one of the best to watch every fifth day. He also goes out of his way to sit down and talk to me about pitching, which obviously helps a ton.

9.) Despite starting in only thirteen games, what do you feel went well in 2016? What are your goals for 2017?

I think I finally started to come into my own toward the end of 2016; starting to understand my mechanics and what it takes to be more consistent. I think it was the best I’ve thrown a baseball in a long time, and I’m excited to continue that work in 2017.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

For me, I gave it all to God and let Him clear my path. All along the way I told myself to work harder than anyone ever has; to keep my head down; go about my business the right way; and respect the game as well as my teammates. But more so than anything, like I said, I always thank God for what I am able to do.

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Big thanks to Daniel Norris for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @DanielNorris18

Free Agents as Early Christmas Presents for MLB Teams

It seems like the baseball season ended yesterday, but in fact, Christmas is just over a week away. As such, less than sixty days remain until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, leaving time as the enemy for free agent players not yet signed with a team for 2017.

However, we see it every year. No matter how talented of a player, there always wind up being a few above-average free agents each offseason who remain unsigned for quite some time. For one reason or another, the right team and contract simply hasn’t come along yet.

But eventually, a perfect match will be made. While it’s somewhat unlikely, it would certainly make for a great Christmas gift for both the given player as well as the team they sign with and its fan base moving into the new year if they can come to terms over the next few days.

With that in mind, I figured I’d go over the top free agents (in my mind) remaining at each individual position that would make for a great addition to any team.MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates

STARTING PITCHER: Jason Hammel

It came down to a few quality starters in this category, but I ended up choosing Jason Hammel as the top free agent starting pitcher remaining. Posting a 3.83 ERA over the course of 166.1 innings pitched, Hammel played a huge role in leading the Cubs to their first World Series since 1908. Though Jason Hammel isn’t in the category of ace, he’s still a great pitcher that would benefit any team that picks him up.

RELIEF PITCHER: Trevor Cahill

My original pick for best remaining free agent reliever was Brad Ziegler, but he was signed by the Marlins an hour before I was set to post this blog entry. Therefore, I went with my next choice, Trevor Cahill. But despite him not being my top pick, Cahill is certainly a top choice. With just better than a strikeout per inning last season, along with a 2.74 ERA, Trevor Cahill has more than proven his value in recent history.

CATCHER: Matt Wieters

Every good pitcher thrives off of a good catcher, and Matt Wieters has proven to be one of the best. After a couple of injury-plagued seasons, Wieters bounced back in 2016 to hit 17 homers for the Orioles. His time in Baltimore may be up, but his playing career certainly is not. With good hitting catchers somewhat of a rarity in today’s game, any team would instantly improve with Matt Wieters behind the dish.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati RedsFIRST BASE: Chris Carter

There were several good choices for top first baseman free agent remaining, but Chris Carter placed at the top of my list. He will never hit for average, possessing a career .218 mark, but Carter’s power is up there with the very best. Having blasted 41 homers in 2016, Chris Carter should be a very attractive piece to any team, despite him still remaining unsigned to this point in the offseason.

SECOND BASE: Chase Utley

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of rumors stating that Chase Utley would prefer to head back to the Dodgers in 2017. However, with them looking into Brian Dozier, that may not occur. Regardless, Utley will land somewhere, and that team will be all the better for it. In addition to Chase Utley’s ability to still hit (recording 14 homers last year), his leadership role has proven to be invaluable over the years.

THIRD BASE: Aaron Hill

There weren’t a lot of players to choose from at the hot corner slot now that Justin Turner has been taken off the board, but I went with Aaron Hill. Much like Chase Utley, Hill isn’t going to hit you a mammoth number of homers any more (he still managed 10 last season), nor is he going to hit for a superbly high average. But Aaron Hill does have the ability to play a good defensive third base while stringing together solid at-bats.<> at Chase Field on April 29, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.

SHORTSTOP: Daniel Descalso

It’s hard to think of a player who had an under-the-radar season quite to the extent of Daniel Descalso. In fact, I was somewhat surprised to discover that he recorded career highs in both on-base-percentage and homers in 2016 — .349 and 8, respectively. With that in mind, Daniel Descalso places at the top of the admittedly weak free agent list for shortstops, and should be signed before 2017 rolls around.

LEFT FIELD: Michael Saunders

Playing in just nine games all of 2015, Michael Saunders exploded back onto the scene in 2016, hitting a career high 24 home runs. For that reason alone, I see him as the top available option yet to be signed to play left field. Michael Saunders doesn’t hit for a high average, but he has enough pop to be a big contributor to any club he’s on, and should be seen as very valuable despite still sitting without a contract.

CENTER FIELD: Rajai Davis

Rajai Davis isn’t the biggest power hitter in baseball by any stretch. He also won’t be found among the top few in batting average year after year. But where Davis truly stands out is his running ability. In 2016 alone, Davis stole 43 bases, making it his fifth career 40+ stolen base season. With that speed, in addition to his bat being no slouch (he popped 12 homers in 2016), Rajai Davis is quite the free agent pickup.trumbo

RIGHT FIELD: Mark Trumbo

Always known for his power, Mark Trumbo took things up a notch last season. After never having hit more than 34 homers in a single season, Trumbo blasted 47 big flies in 2016. Though you never know if any given player’s success can be carried over from one season to the next, Mark Trumbo is definitely worth taking a chance on. Worst case scenario, he hits 30 homers. But the ability for 50 home runs is certainly there.

DESIGNATED HITTER: Edwin Encarnacion

Another player with crazy-stupid power is Edwin Encarnacion. After turning town a sizeable contract offer from the Blue Jays, it’s looking likely that Encarnacion will take his talents elsewhere in 2017 and beyond. In addition to his fifth straight 34+ home run season, Encarnacion recorded a career high in RBI’s as well last season. Whoever gets Edwin Encarnacion, they will have an absolute superstar to add to their lineup.

In Trade-Crazed Baseball World, Dodgers Resigning Talent

Each offseason, every team around Major League Baseball attempts to improve their ball club heading into the next year. Whether a team won the World Series or finished with the worst record in baseball the previous season, it has become common practice for teams to trade away some of their expendable players for others they feel can help their roster even more.dodgers

But the Dodgers are taking a different approach.

Instead of going about things like the Red Sox, who recently traded away two of their prospects viewed as future superstars, the Dodgers are holding on to their prospects as well as their big league talent.

Beginning early this month with the resigning of starting pitcher Rich Hill to a three-year contract worth a cool 48 million, the Dodgers just recently also brought back closer Kenley Jansen for the next five seasons, at 80 million dollars, as well as third baseman Justin Turner on a four-year, 64 million dollar contract. It’s still early in the offseason, but those decisions may prove to be extremely wise.

Despite being set to turn 37 before the 2017 season gets underway, Rich Hill has become known as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball over the past couple of seasons. Following a rough beginning to Hill’s major league career, posting a combined 4.73 ERA over 90 games started from 2005-2011, Hill was on his way out of baseball before finally breaking through.

This past season between the Athletics and the Dodgers, Hill recorded a 2.12 ERA over the course of 110.1 innings pitched. With stats like those, it’s no wonder why the Dodgers found him so valuable.

Equally as important to the Dodgers in their minds was hanging on to their All-Star closer, Kenley Jansen, who finished tied for second in all of baseball with 47 saves this past season. Notching a 1.83 ERA, Jansen proved to be extremely effective at the back end of the Dodger’s bullpen with a 13.6 strikeout-per-nine rate.

Recording 127 saves over the last three years, Jansen is in line to tally his 200th career save in 2017, sitting just 11 shy. With top notch closers being at such a premium in today’s game, the Dodgers truly got a great one with an uncanny ability to keep hitters off balance.

But although opposing hitters have trouble against Kenley Jansen, the closer’s teammate, Justin Turner, certainly has no problem getting the offense going. However, it hasn’t always been that way. From his debut in 2009 through his arrival to the Dodgers in 2014, Turner was a .260 career hitter with a mere 8 career home runs. Since then, it’s been a completely different story for Turner.

Hitting .340 in 2014, Turner has also seen his power increase dramatically, seeing him hit 27 homers in 2016. Although anything can happen in baseball from one season to the next, the Dodgers would seem to have confidence in Turner’s power continuing.

The Dodgers should certainly hope so. After winning the National League West division last season, despite some injuries to some of their key players, such as Clayton Kershaw, the sky is truly the limit for 2017 if all of their pieces can stay healthy and perform as expected.

Rich Hill will still remain the number two starter behind Clayton Kershaw, but their overall rotation is good as well, with guys such as Kenta Maeda and youngsters Julio Urias and Jose De Leon expected to really break out in 2017. Additionally, Kenley Jansen will inevitably be the dominant force he has been for quite some time, continuing to be the answer in the ninth inning.

On the offensive side of things, Justin Turner has 30 homer power, to go along with 2016 Rookie of the Year winner, Corey Seager, and other power bats in Joc Pederson, Yasmani Grandal, Adrian Gonzalez and even Yasiel Puig, if he can play to his potential. laWhen you put it all together, the Dodgers’ lineup could be quite potent heading into next season.

Combine their great offense with their stellar pitching options, and it’s very easy to see a team that can win the division again in 2017, with a deep playoff push not being out of the question. Despite not being able to get past the Championship Series since making it to, and subsequently winning, the World Series in 1988, the Dodgers seemingly have all the pieces needed to break that streak in 2017.

They may not be taking the conventional approach of many other teams, trading for game-changing talent or signing big-name free agents who played elsewhere in 2016, but the Dodgers still seem to be on a successful path.

Conventional or not, their strategy has a great chance of working.

Takeaways from the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings

Aside from the mid-season trade deadline that sees numerous players changing squads with the hopes that they might be the final piece needed to push any given team into the postseason, the Winter Meetings are the busiest time of year for trades and signings to take place around Major League Baseball. mlb

In the past, some of baseball’s biggest deals have taken place during the Winter Meetings (it was the 2007 meetings when the Tigers picked up Miguel Cabrera). But while the 2016 Winter Meetings that took place in National Harbor, Maryland, didn’t have nearly as much action as some of the previous ones, there were still some huge transactions that will vastly affect teams when the 2017 season begins.

Following the signings of big-time free agents Yoenis Cespedes and Carlos Beltran over the past couple of weeks, the Winter Meetings began on Sunday evening, with many rumors swirling around as to what would take place over the course of the five day event. But over time, as always, fact was quickly distinguished from rumor.

Things kicked off with the signing of Matt Holliday by the New York Yankees on a one-year, 13 million dollar deal. While the acquisition doesn’t immediately jump off the page as all that great, it’s still an impactful one. The seven-time All-Star can play a variety of positions, and can still hit with the best of them, knocking 20 homers in 2016.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia PhilliesOn the opposite side of the spectrum is Mark Melancon, who is one of the best at limiting homers, giving up just three total over the course of 71.1 innings last season. For his efforts, Melancon was grabbed by the Giants for the next four years at a price tag of 62 million. After saving 88 games over the last two years, Melancon certainly earned it, and San Francisco appears to have found their closer.

It also appears that Melancon will come in handy for the Giants, as their long-time rivals, the Dodgers, were successful in resigning Rich Hill on a three-year, 48 million dollar deal. After being virtually on his way out of the sport at one point, Hill posted a 2.12 ERA last season, and would likely be the Dodgers’ ace if not for Clayton Kershaw. Still, he sits as one of the best pitchers in the game.

Offensively, it became apparent that the Blue Jays were looking into other options other than Edwin Encarnacion following their signing of Kendrys Morales a few weeks ago, but it became even more so with the addition of Steve Pearce for 12.5 over the next two years. Pearce doesn’t have nearly the power of some players, but his bat is still one that can impact any given game, despite not being a huge move.

However, just as it seemed that the Winter Meeting were going to be a bit slow, with just a few above average deals, the Red Sox decided to take things up a notch. Following a trade for reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers in exchange for Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington, Boston made the biggest splash of the offseason to this point.

Reaching deep into their farm system, the Red Sox sent away highly coveted prospects saleYoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, along with Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz, in return for Chris Sale. If Sale can keep up his dominance that’s made him one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Red Sox could win the division with ease in 2017. But as has been seen in the past, baseball is extremely unpredictable.

Nearly as uncertain is a player’s health from any given season to the next, and Wilson Ramos is a prime example of that. After beginning 2016 on a tear, Ramos suffered a season-ending injury this past season, but hopes to be ready to go sometime around the middle of 2017. Whenever he arrives with the Rays, who signed him to a two-year, 12.5 million (18.5 with incentives) dollar deal, he’s sure to make his presence known.

Wade Davis is also sure to make a big difference for the Cubs, as if they needed any more help. After winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years this season, Chicago picked up lockdown reliever Wade Davis from the Royals in a trade that sent Jorge Soler to the Royals. With Aroldis Chapman winding up with a team away from Chicago as the Winter Meetings progressed, Davis could come up big in 2017.

But while teams such as the Red Sox and Cubs were focused on rebuilding their major league lineup, there were those like the White Sox who made huge improvements to their farm system. After receiving quite the hall from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale deal, the Sox proceeded to pick up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning from the Nationals, losing just Adam Eaton in the swap.

Many see this as a vastly one-sided deal, with the Nationals getting the short end of the stick. But after losing out on Chris Sale and Mark Melancon, the Nationals were undoubtedly looking to add an impact piece and were all in to get Adam Eaton. They may regret it in the short term, but in the long term things may work out in their favor.

desmondOne player who didn’t have things work out quite the way he had been hoping was Ian Desmond, who agreed to a five-year, 70 million dollar contract to play in Denver. After struggling mightily in 2015, following a turndown of a 7-year, 102 million dollar offer from the Nationals in 2014, Demsond really broke out again in 2016 with the Rangers.

The Rockies could use some offense (among other things), and Desmond adds a big piece to their improving lineup, despite not getting the contract he could have received just a few seasons ago.

The final big transaction made on the final day of the Winter Meetings saw Aroldis Chapman going back to the Yankees for five years and 86 million dollars. Coming off his help with the Cubs in their World Series title quest in this season, Chapman has long been known as a devastating pitcher, with his 102+ mile per hour fastball. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees fare in 2017 in what has become a competitive division, but with Chapman locking down the ninth, anything is truly possible.

But while some teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox left the Winter Meetings with their teams very different from when things began, with others doing hardly anything at all to improve their club, it’s important to keep in mind that there are still over 16 weeks left until the 2017 season begins.

The shaking up of teams this offseason could possibly be far from over.

Q and A With Alex Kirilloff

Alex Kirilloff was drafted by the Twins in the 1st round of the 2016 draft, after hitting .540 with 3 homers and 24 RBI’s over the course of his senior year at Plum High School in Pennsylvania. alex

But Kirilloff wasn’t your typical high school draft pick. Although he played for his local high school team, Kirilloff took classes online throughout his entire four years there, making him just the second home schooled player to ever be drafted in the first round.

However, despite having never attended classes on campus, the Twins saw great potential in Kirilloff, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. In his first partial season of pro ball this past year, Kirilloff hit .306 with 7 home runs and 33 RBI’s in just 55 games played, winning the Appalachian League Player of the Year.

Although only time will tell if those numbers will continue to translate into the upper levels of the minors, if Kirilloff can keep his hitting going into the coming years, he could be playing in Minnesota in the not so distant future.

Alex Kirilloff — top prospect in the Twins’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

My father was my biggest baseball influence growing up. He always tells me about how the first day I was able to stand up and walk he was already showing me how to hit off a tee. I’ve always had an interest for baseball growing up for as long as I can remember, really. Being surrounded by it kinda led me in that direction.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

Josh Hamilton was probably my favorite baseball player growing up. He captivated me — watching him hit 28 homers in a single round of the 2008 Homerun Derby at Yankee Stadium. I also have read his book. His story is a great example of how even Christians are not perfect. His battle with alcohol and drugs just goes to show what the devil can do to us if we aren’t always careful. Josh’s testimony is tremendous, and I would suggest reading his book Beyond Belief to anyone.

3.) You were drafted by the Twins in the 1st round of the 2016 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

Being drafted by the Twins is truly a blessing. The process throughout high school was long and tedious at some points, but it was all worth it. When I first found out, my teammates, friends and family were all at a local restaurant watching the draft. My initial thoughts were how excited, honored and blessed I was to get selected by them.

4.) In 2015, before you were drafted, you won the Perfect Game All-American Classic Home Run Challenge in San Diego, hitting 34 home runs over the course of the competition. With the power you possess, how important do you consider power-hitting to be in regards to your overall gameplay?

I think the power is a growing part of my overall gameplay. I would hope that the older I get and the more I mature, I hope the power will become more and more relevant. Overall, though, it’s a huge part of hitting to be able to hit doubles and home runs, so I hope to continue to do that.

5.) You were the first high school player since Joe Mauer the Twins immediately sent to Elizabethton to begin their professional career, completely skipping the Gulf Coast League. What type of changes did you find yourself having to make to adjust to the differences between high school and professional baseball?

There are a lot of adjustments to be made from high school to pro ball. The game speeds up a lot; you are getting challenged every at-bat; you are playing every single day; you have to take care of your body better; and you have to be mentally focused everyday.

6.) Despite being sent straight to the Appalachian League, you immediately excelled, going on to win the Appy League Player of the Year for 2016. What did it mean to you to have such a successful start to your pro career?

It meant a lot to get my career started on a good note. I felt that it was reassurance from the Lord that this truly is His plan for me and the avenue that He would like me to impact people through.

7.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Bus rides are usually not exactly the highlight of going on a road trip. Most of your down time is eating and sleeping, to be honest. Again, that’s just another adjustment that has to be made playing pro ball.

8.) Although you had time after signing to play in just 55 games, what do you feel went well in 2016? What are your goals for 2017?

I just think my adjustments to the whole situation went pretty well in 2016. I am always looking to improve though and, Lord willing, do better in 2017.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite TV show is ‘Intentional Talk’. Favorite food is steak.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice would be that if you are serious about your dream of playing baseball, and that it is what you feel the Lord wants you to do, it takes a lot of work. Training, discipline and motivation are all big keys along the way. Putting yourself in different opportunities to be seen by people is important as well, believe it or not.

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Big thanks to Alex Kirilloff for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @AKirilloff19

Atlanta Braves Quietly Becoming Contenders?

After losing their first seven games of the 2016 season and going on to tie for the worst record in all of the National League (losing 93 games in all), no one honestly expected things to be much better in 2017 for the Braves, citing 2018 or later as the arrival of their top prospects and subsequent resurgence. But over the first few weeks of the offseason to this point, Atlanta has been building a decent rotation somewhat under-the-radar.braves

With a strong starting five going a long way in influencing the outcome of any given team’s season, the Braves began to stockpile their rotation with the signings of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon in the middle of November. Although Dickey hasn’t been the same since winning the Cy Young award in 2012, with a 4.05 ERA over the course of 130 starts since, and despite the fact that Colon is set to turn 44 in May — making neither the dominant type of pitcher who will lead to an immediate turnaround — they are both proven pitchers who will provide the Braves with solid innings all season.

However, it was a pickup the Braves completed on Thursday that made people begin to talk about the legitimacy of their rotation. Acquiring Jaime Garcia from the Cardinals in exchange for a few mid-range prospects, Atlanta added yet another solid piece to their pitching staff. While Garcia fell off towards the end of 2016 after beginning the year in brilliant fashion, Garcia has been a great pitcher over the course of his career to this point, and should fit in nicely with the likes of Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz, as well as the aforementioned free agent pickups.

But while the Braves have greatly improved the rotation aspect of their team, and should subsequently improve upon their 4.51 team ERA from last season (especially with there still being rumors that they are pursuing a true ace of the staff), their bullpen remains a bit shaky. Jim Johnson was decent for them last season, and they have a few other pieces such as Mauricio Cabrera and Shae Simmons who will help out, but things haven’t been truly lights out since the loss of Craig freemanKimbrel to the Padres in 2015.

Even so, the Braves should be able to compete on a decent level if their lineup can produce. In 2016, Atlanta was 19th in team batting average and dead last in terms of collective home runs. But Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp (who saw a bounce back season in 2016) will likely be their All-Star selves again in 2017 and greatly contribute, with the Braves possessing a handful of other standout players.

From Dansby Swanson, who is looking to make good upon his stellar late-season campaign in 2016, to Nick Markakis, who has always been a good MLB player over his career, the Braves certainly have the pieces to make 2017 a year to remember.

Now they just have to put them all together.

In the end, the Braves still face a tough path in 2017. With the Nationals and Mets set to battle for who will win the division, leaving the Marlins to likely come in third, all signs point to it being between the Phillies and Braves for who will finish fourth and fifth.

But whether or not the Braves can stun the baseball world and finish any better than fourth in the National League East in 2017, the point is still clear: The Braves aren’t merely sitting around and waiting for their top, game-changing prospects to arrive over the course of the next few seasons.

For the Atlanta Braves, the time to win is right now.

December Blogging Plans

The Major League Baseball season has officially been over for almost a full month, but that doesn’t mean that things going on in the baseball world have come to a halt as well.

While there isn’t as much to talk about in terms of actual baseball action, the offseason trades and signings that take place each and every season are just now beginning to take place, with a major uptick sure to occur during the Winter Meetings next week. With that in mind, I wanted to go over the things I plan to blog about in the coming month.

First off, I’ll obviously be writing about the biggest trades and signings as they occur. While I can’t write about every single one, I will likely take the time to give my thoughts on the bigger names that get moved, as well as the Winter Meetings as a whole, should they turn out to be jam-packed.

Following that, the greatness in baseball yearly (GIBBY) awards are set to be handed out in December, with a number of players being awarded hardware for a number of categories in recognition of the season they had.

At some point during the month, I’ll be posting a couple of interviews, with one likely coming in the first week of the month, with the second coming sometimes in the latter part of December. The current lineup sees Alex Kirilloff (the Twins’ first round draft pick from 2016) and Daniel Norris up next, but that’s always subject to change.

Other than that, I’ll continue to simply blog about things as they happen. As stated, this isn’t the busiest time of the year due to there being no more baseball games to watch, but it’s times like these where some of my more creative writing takes place. So, who knows what I’ll decide to write about? Stay tuned.