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Pop Fly Baseball

Insight, opinion, and debate regarding the latest baseball news and rumors.

Where are the Reds Really at Heading into 2017?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Reds continue to be a team stuck in the rebuilding process and keep looking for ways to not only improve the team prior to 2017, but in the long term future as well. That entire process begins with things such as the International and Amateur Drafts as well as trading veteran pieces for prospects in return, however, where are the Reds at as of today?

So far this winter, things have been extremely quiet in The Queen City with only a few minor signings and some rumors. Earlier this month, Cincinnati signed free agent, right-handed pitcher, Drew Storen, to a one-year deal and there were also reports that second baseman, Brandon Phillips, once again exercised his no-trade clause and blocked a trade to the Atlanta Braves. Phillips did the same thing last winter with both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals and is said to absolutely love the city, the fans, and everything else that goes into playing at Great American Ballpark.

Last season, the Reds finished in last place in the NL Central with a record of 68-94. In 2015, they also finished last with a 64-98 record proceeding a 76-86 record in 2014 which put them 4th in the division. The last winning season that the Reds had occurred in 2013 under the direction of current Nationals manager, Dusty Baker, who helped the team finish with a 90-72 record.

With that being said, the Reds are going into 2017 with virtually the same team in place and the same merky outlook that they had last winter. While there has certainly been chatter about possible trades involving the aforementioned, Brandon Phillips, along with shortstop, Zack Cozart, and catcher, Tucker Barnhart, nothing has come to fruition.

Going into 2017, the Reds biggest need remains pitching both in their starting rotation as well as the bullpen. Last year, Cincinnati's starting rotation finished 25th in the league with a cumulative ERA of 4.79 in 859.0 IP, while the bullpen was atrocious finishing just ahead of the Colorado Rockies with a 5.09 ERA in 583.0 IP.

Although those aren't the best numbers, not all things are merky when it comes to the Reds rotation especially when it comes to 26-year old, Anthony DeSclafani. DeSclafani is currently slated to be the team's ace this upcoming season and has been a hot ticket on the trade market as teams like the Texas Rangers expressed interest in him last July and at the Winter Meetings. DeSclafani has a 3.99 ERA in 341.0 IP so far in three seasons at the major league level in which he has recorded 282 strikeouts and surrendered 37 home runs along with 90 walks.

On the bullpen side of things, the biggest bright spot over the past three seasons is 32-year old, Jumbo Diaz. Diaz has pitched to the tune of a 3.65 ERA in 138.0 IP over that span, but has been up and down between the big leagues and Triple-A several times in that period.

While the pitching department is certainly in need of some fine tuning, Cincinnati's biggest bright spot right now lies in it's offense headlined by fan favorites, Joey Votto, Billy Hamilton, and Brandon Phillips, long-time shortstop, Zack Cozart, along with youngsters like Tucker Barnhart, Eugenio Suarez, and Adam Duvall.

Last year, Adam Duvall, came out of the cage swinging leading the team with 33 home runs and 103 RBI and participated in the Home Run Derby at Petco Park. In addition, Joey Votto finished the year with a .985 OPS, Billy Hamilton had 58 stolen bases on the year, and Eugenio Suarez led the team with 51 walks in 565 at bats.

All in all, as the 2017 season approaches, the Cincinnati Reds are virtually in the same position that they were heading into last season, but do have a nice offensive core in place along with a starting rotation headlined by, Anthony DeSclafani, who will only continue to get better.

For now, the Reds need to have a strong International and Amateur Draft this season and continue to work with what they have, while possibly fielding offers for veteran players at the trade deadline. Things are bound to get better for the Reds sooner than later.

NL West Poised to Be the Most Competitive in 2017?

Heading into 2016, the AL East division got all of the attention as all five teams went into the year with a legitimate shot at winning the division. By the time the regular season concluded, the Red Sox ended up winning the entire thing, while the Blue Jays and Orioles both won Wild Card spots.

Looking towards this coming season, the AL East is set up to be an interesting race once again, but is likely not going to be as competitive as the NL West, which consists of four teams that can easily contend for the division and one team that could be an upset all year long.

First of all, you have the Los Angeles Dodgers, a relentless team that overcame many hurdles last year especially in the injury department. Los Angeles is poised to have another great season under the guidance of their knowledgeable manager, Dave Roberts, and his entire coaching staff. In addition, the Dodgers brought back their household closer, Kenly Jansen, this winter in free agency, retained Justin Turner over at third base, and have a big guy named, Clayton Kershaw, headlining their rotation in addition to Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, and the up and coming, Julio Urias. Taking them down will be no easy task given how deep and talented their farm system is.

Next, are the San Francisco Giants, who never give up until the very end and have an incredible track record of postseason success especially in the past 7 years. Last season, the Giants biggest hurdle was the fact that they couldn't find someone who could shut the door at the back end of their bullpen, but that problem has been resolved altogether as the team inked former Nationals closer, Mark Melancon, to a three-year deal earlier this winter. Besides Melancon, the team is under the guidance of a great manager, possesses a solid starting rotation, and plays in easily one of the best sports towns and ballparks in all of baseball. Good luck trying to sink that ship and spoiling the magic in the city by the bay.

After the Dodgers and Giants come the Colorado Rockies, a team that has improved over what assets they held last season. Even in 2016, the Rockies surprised many and did very well given how young their starting rotation was and the challenge of playing at Coors Field. However, the Rockies young starting rotation now have another year of MLB experience under their belt, a deep bullpen along with a core of position players that is now complimented by the addition of, Ian Desmond, over at first base. Colorado has the pieces now to make a run for the division and if needed, could always make a trade come July. Don't write off the Rockies yet especially since they have a new manager who knows how to win.

After leaving the Centennial State, head down to Arizona where you will find the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks had an astonishing amount of bad luck last season and will look to rebound in 2017 with nearly the same team in tack, but with an entirely new front office staff. General Manager, Mike Hazen, and the rest of the front office have stuck to their plan all of this winter by making small, low cost additions in hopes that they impact the team in some way during the upcoming season. Beyond that, Arizona is now under the leadership of Torey Lovullo, has a nice offensive core headlined by the return of AJ Pollock and America's First Baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, and possess a starting rotation that is not only talented but deep. Trying to take down the Snakes will be difficult especially if everything that was suppose to happen last year ends up happening in 2017.

Finally, let's head back to the west cost where the San Diego Padres are now the king of the crop in The Plymouth of the West and look to take on the role of being an upset in the NL West. While the Padres don't look to be a serious contender, they certainly can make up some ground in the division if another team struggles especially since there are so many prospects on the team. Add to that the fact that San Diego now has it's cornerstone player, Wil Myers, along with plenty of talent in it's farm system and you can see why San Diego will be a relevant team in the NL West in the near future. Even though the 2017 season hasn't begun yet, the Friars look to make things interesting and add to the competitiveness of the NL West even more.

In the end, trying to pick a winner for the NL West is an impossible task at the moment, but one thing is for certain: every team in the division has an important role in 2017 and anyone could take the cake depending on how the other teams perform.

Hunter Renfroe - One of San Diego's Keys to a Successful 2017

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres are now the big horse in town following the departure of the San Diego Chargers last week and have to find some way to keep fans engaged in the team. The news of Wil Myers signing a 6-year, $80 million dollar extension is a step in the right direction as is the inclusion of rightfielder, Hunter Renfroe, who is expected to have a monster year in 2017.

Renfroe, who is getting ready to turn 25 later this month, was drafted in the 1st round of the 2013 Amateur Draft by the Padres as the 13th overall pick. He received a call up to the major leagues at the end of September last year and immediately had success.

In 35 at bats, Renfroe hit: .371/.389/.800 with 13 hits, 3 doubles, 4 home runs, 14 RBI, 1 walk, and 5 strikeouts. It is certainly a small sample size, but his OPS during that time was an astonishing 1.189!

Back track to his minor league days and you can see why the former Mississippi State University student is poised for greatness in 2017 and beyond. During his 4 seasons in the minor leagues with the Padres, Renfroe hit: .281/.330/.494 in 1,716 at bats. In that time, he recorded 482 hits, 108 doubles, 13 triples, 77 home runs, 283 RBI, 23 stolen bases, 121 walks, and 430 strikeouts. His strikeout rate is certainly high, but considering that he hit 30 home runs and 105 RBI alone last year with Triple-A El Paso, he is only beginning to reach his prime.

In regards to the future, scouts believe that Renfroe will play a prominent role out in rightfield for the Padres and compliment Manuel Margot, who could end up breaking camp and nudging current centerfielder, Travis Jankowski, into leftfield. Furthermore, scouts note that Renfroe has an incredible throwing arm and one that puts him at an advantage over the competition. In fact, last season alone in Triple-A, Renfroe made 17 assists, which tied him for second in the Pacific Coast League, behind his counterpart, Manuel Margot.

Prior to last season, many scouts made it known that Renfroe had to work on his defensive skills and catch up to speed with making the correct plays over in rightfield. They note that after working hard on improving in those areas last winter, Renfroe has made the necessary adjustments and will provide San Diego, at the very least, an everyday defensive plus outfielder even if he struggles to hit at certain times.

While things have certainly been merky for the Padres dating back to the 2014 offseason, when AJ Preller & Company completed a massive overhaul of the team, the future is looking bright thanks to players like Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, and the aforementioned, Wil Myers. Now, things need to come together and the front office needs to dedicate as many resources as possible towards putting the best team on the field in an effort to win now especially since the Padres are the only team left in The Plymouth of the West.