Here we will predict which players will take a step forward in their performances in the 2017 season. The players in the following article will have either experienced poor 2016 seasons or shown improved numbers across the board. Regardless of the players 2016 situation, advanced statistics tell us that they are primed for quality 2017 seasons and sustained success for the future.
The NL West is a particularly interesting division, featuring two elite level teams in the Dodgers and Giants, but also featuring two up and coming teams that some believe will perform better than expected in 2017: the Rockies and Diamondbacks. The San Diego Padres are in the early stages of a rebuild but feature quite a variety of young position players making their debuts at some point during 2017.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Taijuan Walker
Taijuan Walker came to Arizona as part of the trade that sent Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger to the Mariners. Once a highly regarded prospect, Walker has settled in as a 3 starter in the majors, although many believe that at age 24 he has yet to tap into his potential. Over the past two seasons, he has pitched to a tune of an ERA of around 4.30, which at first glance may not seem appealing, but his ability to limit walks (2.5 BB/9 over the last two seasons) and ability to strikeout batters (8.1 K/9 over the last two seasons) give Walker a good outlook for the 2017 season. A move from the AL to the NL should also favor Walker, and a solid defense behind him in Arizona will also play a key role in his improvement. Walker has established himself as a solid major league starter, but with a few improvements he could truly catapult himself into the top of the Diamondbacks staff for years to come.
Colorado Rockies – Tyler Chatwood
Behold, your 2016 MLB leader in road ERA. Wait, what? You heard right, Tyler Chatswood’s 1.69 ERA in 13 road starts was the best in the majors last year, alluding to his ability to induce weak contact and generate a ton of ground balls. The problem? His ERA in Coors Field: 6.12. Chatswood’s ERA gradually increased month by month during 2016, likely a result of fatigue and workload, especially considering he had missed the entire 2015 due to Tommy John Surgery. However, with a full season of experience under his belt, Chatswood’s ability to generate ground balls should play excellent in Coors Field behind a defense that features two gold glovers in Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu. Don’t expect Chatswood to repeat his 1.69 road ERA again, but if he can bring down his Coors Field ERA to a more respectable number around the 4’s, Chatwood should comfortably settle in as the Rockies second starter behind budding ace, Jon Gray.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Yasiel Puig
Here’s a bold prediction for 2017: Yasiel Puig will not be playing baseball in Los Angeles by season’s end. After bursting onto the scene in 2013, Puig has struggled to regain the form that garnered him MVP votes as a rookie. He hasn’t been bad since then, but inconsistencies have frustrated the Dodgers and limited his development. He reminds me a lot of Justin Upton, an incredibly talented player who is what he is, inconsistent. If Puig is going to improve this season, look for him to resort back to his approach of hitting to the opposite field, which he did fewer last year than he previously had in his whole career. A September call up in 2016 saw him hit .281/.338/.561 while producing a 137 wRC+, teasing at a return to the All-Star form he had in his first few seasons. However, with a crowded outfield situation and growing impatience from the Dodgers, Puig would massively benefit from a trade and a change in scenery. Keep a team like the Phillies in mind, who could take a chance on Puig as they continue to rebuild.
San Diego Padres – Hunter Renfroe
Hunter Renfroe has done two things over his last three minor league seasons: stay healthy and hit a ton of extra base hits. After hitting 30 home runs and 34 doubles while posting a slash line of .306/.336/.557, he earned a promotion to the majors where in just 35 at bats hit another 4 homers while driving in 14. The power is undeniable, but what will determine just how successful he is will be his ability to work deep counts. He only struck out 5 times in his 35 major league at bats, and his strikeout numbers in the minor leagues, although still high, have been trending in the right direction. How he works counts will help him see better pitches to hit and increase the amount of times he walks. It would be incorrect to label him a free swinger at this point, but he will need to improve on his pitch selection to sustain long term success in the majors. Pitchers will expose the outer part of the plate against him, and rightfully so, but expect Renfroe to punish any pitch that gets too much of the plate. He will form part of an exiting young outfield in San Diego that also features defensive wizard Manuel Margot and the speedy Travis Jankowski in left.
San Francisco Giants – Derek Law
While his 2017 debut didn’t go as planned, Derek Law had a spectacular rookie season in 2016, pitching to a tune of a 2.13 ERA in 55 innings out the Giants bullpen. With the Giants signing Mark Melancon to close games and already having a valuable 8th inning weapon in Hunter Strickland, Derek Law becomes an extremely valuable asset that the Giants can use in an “Andrew Miller” type of role during the season, perhaps bringing him in the early or mid innings to help get his team out of jams. Of his 61 appearances in 2016, 12 of them were for more than 3 outs, which signals that he has the capacity to pitch in longer relief than the classic one inning, hard throwing bullpen arm. Coming up as a closer in the Giants system (over 40 minor league saves), he has experience working in high leverage situations and could prove to be a vital weapon out of the Giants bullpen which struggled mightily last season.