Though the NBA and NHL seasons have been plenty exciting, the imminent calendar switch to “April” means that baseball season is finally upon us. Spring Training, covering most of March, has been a nice taste, but it’s time for the real deal: Major League Baseball is back!
The season technically begins on Sunday night, with a 2015 World Series re-match between the New York Mets and champion Kansas City Royals, while the rest of the league opens up on Monday April 4th, the traditional Opening Day.
Discounting Sunday’s game, which is plenty worthwhile to watch already, here are four players to watch on Monday, two from the AL and two from the NL:
1. David Price, Boston Red Sox
Price, a long-time member of the AL East, both with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays, decided to keep his talents in a division in which he has had an amazing amount of success. After a mid-season trade that landed him in Toronto, Price still managed to finish 2nd place in the AL Cy Young voting.
Now a member of the Red Sox, Price enters 2016 with an enormous amount of pressure. Price, who was named the Opening Day starter, is the next in a line of Boston number ones that have championship expectations. Over his career though, Price has shown the ability to rise to the opportunity.
Last season, Price finished with a 2.45 ERA, a career-best. While it’s tough to live up to that number, Price will have the opportunity to do just that. The Red Sox should score plenty of runs, and Price is going to be amped up for his debut. Expect Price to get the win on Opening Day.
2. Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox
One of the most surprising, (and least talked about), moves this winter was the Cincinnati Reds trading All-Star Todd Frazier to the White Sox. Frazier, no matter who you ask, was a top-five 3B in the NL last season. But with Frazier entering his age-30 season, and the Reds far off from contending, the deal worked for both parties.
This trade was necessary for the White Sox, as their offense was dismal. The White Sox ranked last in the AL in runs scored, HRs, and OPS. Frazier, a slugger in his own right, brings 108 career-HRs to help jump-start the offense that was embarrassing in 2015.
Frazier struggled after the All-Star break last season, but his addition to the White Sox should be noticeable instantly. Even with his late struggles, Frazier still slashed 35 HRs, 89 RBIs, and scored 82 runs. The White Sox may not be contenders yet, but Frazier pushes them closer to the top of the AL Central.
1. Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
I wrote about the Diamondbacks a few weeks ago, and believe they have a real shot at the postseason this time around. It all starts with Zack Greinke, a true ace and former Cy Young winner (2009). Greinke finished 2015 with a ridiculous 1.66 ERA, best in baseball.
The Diamondbacks have high hopes for Greinke, and he enters the season as the clear number-one, likely top-five pitcher in the NL. Of course regression is on the table, as his 1.66 ERA outperformed his 2.76 FIP. But if Greinke pitches like he normally does, the Diamondbacks are in for a treat.
After spending the last few seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, under the shadow of superstar Clayton Kershaw, Greinke has the chance to start Opening Day in Arizona. Expect Greinke to put up a great performance, as is the norm from the veteran right-hander.
2. Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs
RF Jason Heyward entered free agency as the top position player, and Heyward decided to join the young Cubs squad. With sluggers Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, and the reigning Cy Young Jake Arrieta, the Cubs already had something special. Heyward adds to this in a big way, and the Cubs have sky-high expectations.
Heyward leaves the St. Louis Cardinals after an 100-win season, though the Cardinals did lose to these Cubs in the NLDS. It makes sense in a weird way; if you can’t beat them, join them. Heyward is still finding himself offensively, having only hit for >20 HRs once (2012), but he consistently puts up >5 WAR.
Now that the Cubs are favorites instead of underdogs, the spotlight will be on them all season. Heyward is a great addition to the current NL Central favorites, and could be the extra piece they need to reach the World Series. Look for Heyward to impress quickly and often in Chicago.
Statistics provided by: MLB.com, baseball-reference.com, and FanGraphs.com
Images thanks to: Boston Herald, CBS sports, theodysseyonline.com, USA Today, NBC Sports, baseballessential.com