It is finally “MLB beat writers taking videos of pitchers throwing bullpens from far away” season, and that means it’s spring training. With pitchers and catchers reporting to Arizona and Florida this week, I want to take a look toward the future and predict the regular season awards. This exercise in trying to guess the future is mainly so I can see how wrong I was come November. These are my way-too-early season awards predictions. Strap in because this is a long one. Let’s get weird.
Most Valuable Player:
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Coming into the offseason, I would have likely said either Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Mike Trout or Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman for MVP in the American League.
However, now the Astros have been tossed around the mud amidst a massive cheating scandal, it seems nearly impossible for any Astros player to pick up an award this season. It also doesn’t hurt that the best player in baseball plays in the AL, Michael Nelson Trout. He has a career 73.4 fWAR through his eight-year career and he may have a healthy Shohei Ohtani to play alongside of this season. This is the easiest pick of the bunch — book it.
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
The National League MVP is where things can get a bit dicey. There are about four real contenders for the award this year: Arenado, 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger and 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts.
Yes, Arenado is the only one not to have already won the award, but he is also the best defensive player in the game while being the only person on this list to average just under 40 home runs over the last five seasons. He has not posted an OPS under .900 since 2015 when he had an .898, while playing 155-plus games in every year. He is a model of consistency, and he even cut his strikeout rate last year, dropping from 18.1% in 2018 to 14.0% in 2019.
He is also coming off a contentious offseason full of trade rumors and talk from the front office. Expect the potential MVP to be playing mad, which could lead to absolute rockets flying out of an already hitter-friendly Coors Field.
Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
In 2019 Lucas Giolito did some special things as a 24-year old. He earned his place on a stacked AL All-Star team, led the majors in complete games and shutouts while pitching to the tune of a 3.41 ERA. Now he has a former Cy Young winner in Dallas Keuchel to teach him to be even better. This is the year he takes the next step and clinches the award himself.
🗣 THIS JUST IN!
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) June 3, 2019
Giolito broke out last year after a shaky first year in the bigs in 2018. Now he has an All-Star catcher to throw to and an even stronger offense to put him at ease on the mound. There is so much value in a starter who can go the full nine innings. Giolito finished 10th in pitcher WAR according to FanGraphs last season, with 5.1. He was also fifth in baseball in K/9 among qualifiers with an 11.62.
The main question here is his health. Giolito missed the last two weeks of the season in 2019 due to a lat strain, a disappointing ending to a rather impressive season. He has also has concerns with his right elbow, which he strained in his senior year of high school.
Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
The two-time Cy Young is in line for a third straight victory this season, coming off a 2.43 ERA, 7 fWAR year. He has never had a season with an ERA higher than 3.53 in his six-year major league career and has been sub-3 in four-out-of-six years. There is an argument to be made that he’s in baseball’s top three players.
Pedro Martinez and Jacob deGrom, Mechanics Overlay pic.twitter.com/CbchfPhvTX
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) January 10, 2020
He has been super-durable the past three seasons, averaging about 207 innings pitched per year, while striking out more than 230 batters in all three seasons. deGrom is a monster, plain and simple. It’s his award to lose.
Rookie of the Year:
Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox
Here’s where things start to go haywire. Rookie of the Year picks are a complete crapshoot, but I’d like to think the White Sox front office knew what they were doing giving Robert a 6-year, $50 million extension before he touched a major league field. As a byproduct of this extension, Robert should not have to deal with service time manipulation, thus giving him the maximum amount of plate appearances.
Robert is MLB.com’s No. 3 overall prospect, behind Wander Franco and Gavin Lux. In 122 minor league games last season, Robert has posted a 1.022 OPS across three levels. In 47 Triple-A games he hit 16 home runs and swiped seven bags — overall, he was a 30-30 player in the minors last season with 32 bombs and 36 stolen bases. His main concern is a tendency to strikeout, which is not unusual for prospects, but it could be a glaring weakness at the next level.
Sixto Sanchez, Miami Marlins
Sanchez may not reach the majors until mid-June but that doesn’t mean he can’t secure the award anyway. According to MLB.com, which ranks him as the game’s No. 22 overall prospect, he has a 70-grade fastball that can clock as high as 99 mph. The 21-year-old righty features a four-pitch mix of a 2-seamer, 4-seamer, changeup and slider.
In 114.0 innings between High-A and Double-A last year, with a majority coming in Double-A, Sanchez had a 2.76 ERA, struck out 103 batters and allowed just six home runs. His strikeouts could use some improvement, but he doesn’t walk enough batters for it to be a concern, boasting a 4.6 K/9 ratio. He could be something really special for a middling franchise, so keep your eyes on him.
Manager of the Year:
Joe Maddon, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
After leading the Chicago Cubs to a World Series victory in 2016, Maddon found himself looking for a job this offseason and landed back with the team that thrust him to MLB stardom, the Angels. Maddon began his career with the Angels in their minor league system before joining the major league staff, winning a World Series with them in 2002. He led the Rays to a World Series in 2008, but was unable to get the job done, losing to the Phillies in seven games.
Known for his craftiness, basically creating the idea of the modern shift and going with four outfielders or five infielders at times, Maddon is MLB’s second-highest paid manager. He inherits a team with potential for greatness or utter mediocrity. He has the likely-MVP in Trout and two-way star Ohtani, but also has almost no pitching outside of Ohtani and Andrew Heaney.
The Angels are projected to win 86.8 games this season by Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA rankings, which is about 11.5 games behind the Astros. If this team can crack the playoffs, I think it’s Maddon’s award. He needs to use his quirky personality and outside-the-box thinking to maximize the potential of this team.
Joe Girardi, Philadelphia Phillies
The former New York Yankees skipper, who won a ring with them in 2009, is up to a new task after taking two years off from managing. This is an even taller task than the Angels, as the Phillies are projected to win 76.8 games this season, per PECOTA. Personally, I think that projection is way too low; I see this as an 85 to 88-win team as currently constructed.
They have a solid top-3 in their rotation with Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Jake Arrieta, a pair of sluggers in Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins and former MVP Andrew McCutchen, who is one of my favorite players to watch. This team has solid potential, Girardi can take them to new heights. The New York Mets should have snatched him up when they had the chance.
Comeback Player of the Year:
Lance McCullers, Houston Astros
I know I said earlier that no Astros’ players would be getting awards this year but let me rephrase: No Astros are getting MAJOR awards this year. Lance McCullers sat on the sidelines all of last year after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in Nov. 2018. He is the perfect candidate for this award. An All-Star in 2017, McCullers is just 26 years old and has all the potential in the world.
Lance McCullers, Two Seamer (with Tail).
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 26, 2019
In parts of four major league seasons, McCullers has a pitched 453.2 innings to the tune of a 3.67 ERA. He just can’t stay healthy for the life of him. I believe in him and his insane 2780 spin rate curveball from 2018.
Felix Hernandez, Atlanta Braves
I must admit this addition is purely based on hope. King Felix was my favorite pitcher growing up, and I want nothing else but for him to return to the throne. His Hall of Fame career has spanned 14 seasons thus far but took a nasty turn after his 30th birthday. Since his age-30 season, his ERA has gained nearly a full run each year to the next.
Mariners fans go crazy for Felix Hernandez during his final start in Seattle pic.twitter.com/BYnaMtEtAs
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) September 27, 2019
Hopefully with a change of scenery and a new coaching staff behind him, he can find the magic that gave him his crown.