Spring training is here! Pitchers and catchers have reported to camp, and in less than two weeks, Grapefruit League and Cactus League games will begin. We’re almost home.
So, with the offseason having come to an end, it’s time to look ahead to the 2017 upcoming season. And to do that, we’ve been breaking down the top 10 players at each position for the last several days. Some things to keep in mind:
- The players are ranked according to who we’d want for 2017 only. Contracts and salaries don’t matter. Simply put, if you are trying to win the World Series this year, whom do you want at the position?
- These rankings are the result of voting by your four CBSSports.com baseball writers: R.J. Anderson, Mike Axisa, Dayn Perry, and Matt Snyder. We ranked the players individually and averaged them all together.
- These are not Fantasy baseball rankings. You can find those here. This particularly matters here, because we might have a non-closer ahead of closers who will rack up far more Fantasy value.
Onto the bullpen.
Kenley Jansen L.A. Dodgers Dodgers RP
Far from unanimous, we actually had three pitchers receive a first-place vote from our four-man panel and ended with a tie at the top. Thanks in part to his devastating cutter, Jansen has been one of the better relievers in baseball since arriving in 2010 at age 22. In 408 2/3 career innings, Jansen has a 2.20 ERA and 0.89 WHIP with 632 strikeouts. He’s coming off a season that dwarfs the career totals, too: 1.83 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 104 K, 11 BB (two of which were intentional), 68 2/3 IP. Jansen will only be 29 this season, and there’s very little reason to expect him to be anything but amazing this year.
Zach Britton Baltimore Orioles RP
|Even if Britton can’t repeat his historically-good 2016 season, his 2014-15 seasons, age and stuff merit this spot. Like Jansen, Britton will be 29 this season. His career 2016 stat-line was silly: 47 for 47 in saves, 0.54 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 74 K, 18 BB (three were intentional) in 67 IP. It’s unreasonable to expect that again, but keep in mind that Britton had a 1.77 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in the previous two seasons combined. So long as that heavy sinker keeps sitting above 97 on average, Britton will remain among MLB’s elite relievers.|
Andrew Miller Cleveland Indians RP
The lanky lefty has been good in relief since moving to the bullpen permanently with the Red Sox and has been lights-out since the 2013-14 range. He won the 2015 Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year award with the Yankees, but his star actually brightened during a World Series run with the Indians last year. He won the ALCS MVP after 7 2/3 scoreless innings with 14 strikeouts and no walks. Until the Cubs got to him in Game 7, it was one of the best postseason performances ever for a reliever. Along the way, Miller became a new kind of weapon for Terry Francona, serving as an elite-stuff middle man or setup man, ready to work multiple innings from seemingly any point in a game. He could well be the most valuable reliever in baseball this season due to his flexibility in use.
Dellin Betances N.Y. Yankees Yankees RP
|Another non-closer, Betances ran out of gas last season. In his last nine appearances, he gave up 13 runs (10 earned) on 12 hits and eight walks in seven innings. It ballooned his ERA from 2.05 to 3.08 and WHIP from 0.94 to 1.12 in less than a month. He still struck out 126 in 73 innings. Plus, in 2014-15 combined, Betances pitched to a 1.45 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 266 strikeouts in 174 innings. We’re betting on almost three years instead of less than a month when it comes to 2017, especially since Betances still hasn’t reached 30 years old.|
Aroldis Chapman N.Y. Yankees Yankees RP
|One of the premier relievers in baseball since 2012, we expect another amazingly dominant season. Don’t let him being the fifth name here fool you -- our top five were totally bunched together and were a bit interchangable save for a few small points. Aside from a few very important outings (two different Game 5s come to mind), Chapman wasn’t great in the postseason. His regular season showed a 1.55 ERA and 90 strikeouts against only 18 walks in 58 innings, though. And even if it seems like he’s been around forever, Chapman is still only 29 years old this season. It would be folly to think he’s anything other than stellar on the hill.|
Edwin Diaz Seattle Mariners RP
|Our voting was unbelievably top heavy. Each of the top five got a top-five vote from all four of us. Past those five, we were all over the board. Though Mariners closer Edwin Diaz was left off one ballot, he got enough points from the rest of us to land here. The slender righty didn’t debut until June last season, but he was closing by August. He saved 18 games in 21 chances with a 2.79 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings. Control was an issue at times, but he didn’t walk a hitter in September (13 innings). He’s only going to be 23 this season and that power fastball (high-90s) and slider (high-80s with tight spin) combo say the sky is the limit.|
Wade Davis Chi. Cubs Cubs RP
|As a member of two straight Royals pennant winners and the 2015 World Series champs, Wade Davis was probably the best reliever in the majors in 2014-15. He had a 0.97 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 187 strikeouts against 43 walks in 139 1/3 innings. He’s been ridiculous in the postseason, too, allowing only one run in 27 1/3 innings as a reliever. Even last year, Davis had a 1.87 ERA in 43 1/3 innings. So why is he down here? He battled forearm strain issues twice in 2016, that’s why. Sometimes pitchers bounce back perfectly fine, sometimes it’s a precursor for needing Tommy John surgery. For what it’s worth, Davis had two bad outings after his return in September, but closed with seven scoreless innings in which he struck out nine. In all likelihood, he’s going to save a ton of games for the Cubs this year.|
Roberto Osuna Toronto Blue Jays RP
|This kid’s even younger than Diaz. Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna turned 22 last week and he already has 56 career saves. He mixes mostly a hard four-seamer with a slider, but he has a wider arsenal than most relievers, also using at times a sinker and/or cutter. So far in his career, he’s pitched to a 2.63 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 157 strikeouts against 24 unintentional walks in 143 2/3 innings. It’s an awfully crowded field here with so many talented relievers -- including a handful of studs we had to leave off -- but it’s possible we’ve put Osuna too low. He’s great.|
Jeurys Familia N.Y. Mets Mets RP
|Two of us left Familila off our ballots and I can speak to why I did: He’s going to be suspended for violating the league’s domestic violence policy, and losing that time means he’ll lose a month or more of value to the Mets, meaning he went from my 6-8 range to outside my top 10. Without an upcoming suspension, he absolutely would have been ranked close to the top five. Last season, the 26-year-old Familia was 51 of 56 in save chances with a 2.55 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings. The walks (31) in addition to the probable month off this year would be the concerns.|
Craig Kimbrel Boston Red Sox RP
|Few active relievers have a better career resume, and Kimbrel is only going to turn 29 in May, but his ERA has gone from 1.61 to 2.58 to 3.40 in each of the last three seasons, respectively. The strikeout rate has actually remained high, as has his velocity. An issue last season? The walks. He issued 30 free passes in 53 innings (5.1 BB/9 compared to 3.4 on his carer before the season). We’ll probably never again see Kimbrel in 2012 mode (1.01 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 16.7 K/9) and maybe not even 2014 mode (1.61 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 13.9 K/9), but there’s enough track record here along with a relative lack of red flags to believe he’s set to be a top-10 reliever in 2017.|