By Peter Valentino
As the snow melts and we move closer to opening day, free agency and injuries have shaped the perspective of teams going into opening day. Unlike the past two seasons, there isn’t expected to be too much of a leap between good and bad teams. Most of the good teams will remain competitive, and most of the bad teams will remain in rebuilding mode. Maybe one or two teams will break through and one or two teams will plummet, but assumedly, there will not be a whole lot of turnover. That being said, here are a few teams that could be surprise contenders in 2017.
The first surprise team could be the Colorado Rockies. The signing of Ian Desmond flew under the radar, as he isn’t as big of a household name as other players. However, he can really play any outfield and infield position, and has already made progress at first base. Once he returns from a hand injury, which expected to be sometime in April, he can be plugged in anywhere in the lineup and produce. The bats are always hot in Colorado, but it’s the pitching that will be under the microscope. Jon Gray has the stuff to be an ace in the near future, and the rest of the rotation should play above average, with Tyler Chatwood and Tyler Anderson being solid pieces. The bullpen isn’t too shabby either, with Jake McGee slated as their closer. This team should be able to compete at home, as their lineup is stacked. If the pitching can come around, this team might be able to compete with the Giants and the Dodgers for the NL West.
Bear with me on this next one: the second surprise team is the New York Yankees. From the eye test, they really aren’t sneaking up on anyone. The baby bombers (Sanchez, Austin, Judge) showed up last year, and almost put them in the Wild Card game. With their stacked farm system, it’s obvious that this team will be good sometime in the near future. However, we see how fast teams have developed players, like the Astros and the Cubs, in order to be competitive very quickly. Who are we to say that the almighty New York Yankees can’t develop talent that quickly? Assumedly, before the end of the season, we’ll see top prospects like Clint Frazier, James Kaprielian and, maybe, Justus Sheffield. With Greg Bird coming back to play first, and a pretty stacked bench, the Yankees might not just be competitive; they could be favorites. Being in the AL East will be challenging, as the Red Sox are a World Series favorite, and the Orioles and the Blue Jays will also compete at some level. However, if they are in it at the trade deadline, and they probably will be, expect them to go all out for an early start to their projected dynasty.
The third surprise team is the Philadelphia Phillies. This one is a bit of a reach; however, of all the serious rebuilding teams, the Phillies seem to be farther along in their process than the Braves, the Padres, the Reds, the Brewers and the A’s. The rotation has the potential to be the next great staff, with Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher and, eventually, former number one overall pick Mark Appel all set to play in 2017. Another player coming up in 2017 is top prospect JP Crawford, the shortstop of the future for the Phillies. The team has the perfect mix of veteran players and young guys, adding Clay Buchholz and Howie Kendrick. This team probably won’t compete for the NL East, with the two top guns in New York and Washington duking it out. However, the Phillies will not be an easy series win in 2017, and could be in the wild card race late in the season. It may be a stretch to call them a surprise, but they will be intriguing to watch.
The league has had many surprise teams the past three years, from the Royals in 2014, the Astros, Mets and Cubs in 2015 and the Indians in 2016. As a new era of star players continue to rise up the farm systems, more teams will be able to surprise. For the Yankees, Rockies and Phillies, it could be their time to shine.