NBA Draft Winners

Detroit Pistons- Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State, Luka Garza, C, Iowa, Isaiah Livers, F, Michigan, Balsa Koprivica, C, Florida State

The Pistons have not drafted an all-star since 2012 when they scooped up Georgetown center Andre Drummond.  They had their chance to grab the future and they didn’t over think it when they selected Cade Cunningham with the #1 pick in the 2021 draft.  

Cunningham immediately upgrades their entire roster, he is a 6’8” point forward that can control the game with or without the ball. He turned around a young Oklahoma State team, making them a contender in the stacked Big 12 all season.   He will join a young Pistons core led by Saddiq Bey and the returning 2020 first round pick PG Killian Hayes.  Time will tell whether Cade will primarily play on the ball or without it as Hayes was struck with the injury bug last season before anyone could gauge his skill at the NBA level.

Much like 2020 I feel like the Pistons didn’t just crush their first pick but were able to add multiple players that could make an impact on the roster.  Adding Michigan’s Isaiah Livers not only gets them a perfect fit for their state fan base but gives them a legit two-way player that has NBA size at the 3.  Livers will fit in well off the bench for a Detroit team that will have an open competition for nearly every position.  Oh they also added Luka Garza,  the most dominant player in all of college basketball.  There are a lot of questions surrounding his game transitioning to the NBA, but his skills and late round pick really make him a gamble worth taking at such a low cost.

Koprivica is 7 feet tall and has skills that allowed him to play the up-tempo offense that Florida State played.  An NBA body that is worth the risk.

Golden State Warriors- Jonathan Kuminga, F, GLeague Ignite, Moses Moody, G, Arkansas

The Warriors could intend to move both of these players to grab veteran depth to go along with their trio of stars.  Nevertheless they grabbed the best possible talent available at 7 and 14 and it is not even that close. 

Golden State had Jonathan Kuminga dropped to them at #7, a forward that already has an NBA body at 6’8” and 220 pounds.  Kuminga already has a professional season under his belt, playing in the G League, averaging 15 points, 7 rebounds and nearly 3 assists per game.  He is a two way player that features a 7-foot wingspan that will allow him to guard positions 1-4 and potentially 5’s in today’s small ball era.  The one knock on Kuminga is an inability to stay focused on the defensive end, with the veteran leadership of Draymond Green that problem should be handled.  He is a rim runner that will fit in nicely with the skills of Steph and Klay opening up the inside for him.  

With the 14th pick the Warriors grabbed Moses Moody.  Moody was actually projected in the top ten.  Many thought the Warriors would have to take him at #7.  Shockingly he fell to them and it is a perfect fit for both parties.  Moody also has a professional level body at 6’6” with a long wingspan.  Moody has to improve his 3-pt shooting, but his overall game fits in nicely on the offensive end.  The Warriors will likely be patient with Klay Thompson, likely trying to reduce his workload.  Moody will get many opportunities to be in the limelight. 

Charlotte Hornets- James Bouknight, G UConn, Kai Jones, C, Texas, JT Thor, F, Auburn, Scottie Lewis, G, Florida

Charlotte had a lot of holes to fill around LaMelo Ball. First they needed a big man, they traded for Mason Plumlee.  A perfect fit for the pick and roll offense along with Ball.  Plumlee had a career season in 2021 and he allowed the Hornets to draft and fill in other needs. 

Much like the Warriors the Hornets took advantage of a talented player that seemed to fall into their lap.  UConn guard James Bouknight was projected in the top 6 but was sitting their at #11.  Rather than get tricky, Charlotte grabbed Bouknight and now has a backcourt that will grow over the next five years minimum. 

The Hornets continued to add athletes, taking Texas big man Kai Jones and Auburn’s JT Thor.  Jones could be a diamond in the rough, he is a mobile 6’10” player that shot 38% from behind the arc and he will be able to move with the pace that Ball and company will bring.  JT Thor didn’t dazzle statistically in his freshman season but his raw ability and size make him a project that will reward in the long run if coached up.  He brings a lot of defensive ability. 

Honorable Mention- Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets

Can Cade save the Pistons?

The draft lottery can change an organization. If you win you have a chance to choose the next great star for your organization that could potentially lead your organization to prominence or can set you back for a decade. The Detroit Pistons have been looking for their next great star for over ten years. The last time they were relevant at all was the 2007-2008 season. Since that season the Pistons have been over .500 just one time and made the playoffs just one time. Much like their team the organization has shot and missed continually on draft night.

If you take a look at the Pistons top ten picks over the last 15 years only Andre Drummond has made an All-Star team. Players like Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson were all selected in the top ten and none of them were successful in making an impact on the team. None are currently on their roster and other than Caldwell-Pope none of them even find themselves in an NBA rotation. The Pistons attempted to build their team through free agency and trades, acquiring former Clippers star Blake Griffin . The past his prime Griffin helped them make the playoffs for the first time in ten years but his diminishing skill set accompanied by a lack of any guard production…and Andre Drummon stinking forced the Pistons to rethink everything. The Pistons moved on from Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin in order to help them plummet to the bottom of the league. They were looking for a chance to start over and they needed that big time player, a difference maker to build their organization around. The ping pong balls dropped their way on lottery night and the prize was Cade Cunningham.

Cade Cunningham coming to the Motor City will immediately change the landscape of the organization. To build an organization you have to have a centerpiece. The NBA is a league led by stars and the Pistons currently lack any semblance of a star. Their leading scorer in 2021 was Jerami Grant who is better known for his effectiveness off of the bench. He was thrust into a leadership role as the Pistons shredded their roster to get where they are. With the addition of Cunningham and the return of last year’s first round pick Killian Hayes, Grant will be able to return to a role more suited for him as a bench player and secondary scorer.

Cunningham was able to turn Oklahoma State into a contender in the most competitive division in college basketball. His length and athleticism make him a perfect fit for a point-forward in the league. He can control the game with the ball in his hands, but he has also shown the ability to make the players around him better, averaging almost four assists per game in college. Cade can run the pick and roll with great precision, Mason Plumlee or Jerami Grant will thrive working with this young star to be.
He is a floor general, he will help the rest of the young talent Detroit has assembled excel. A full season with a healthy Saddiq Bey, Seko Doumboya, Hamidou Diallo and Killian Hayes should be fun to watch develop over the next five seasons.

The Pistons will have their growing pains as any young team does. They should not overthink this decision. There are two levels of #1 overall picks I rank them from Lebron James to Anthony Bennett, Cade will no doubt be much closer to LeBron than Bennett. He will be the franchise, but it will take time.

Low Expectations, High Reward Players

There are stars in baseball and there are roles players. Very few teams can win a division, let alone a championship without multiple pieces doing their part. The Dodgers last season were a team that was made up of stars like Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw. They had tons of talent but they would not have been able to win a championship without super utility player Chris Taylor or journeymen turned stars Max Muncy and Justin Turner. Some players have long careers and take a while to find themselves. Some were highly touted prospects that just took a little longer than most expected. This season there are a few players that have stood out to me as potential game changers to already strong rosters.

Christian Arroyo- Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox were looking for some offensive help in the offseason. They added power bat Hunter Renfroe and super utility men Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez.  The off the radar addition of Christain Arroyo has paid off as much if not more then any of them. 

Arroyo was moved to the lead off position to fill the gap left by the struggling Enrique Hernandez.  He has done nothing but produce since the move going 9 for 24. The former Giants first round pick has set the table for the big bats in the lineup, forcing opposing pitchers to challenge Rafael Devers and Xander Bogearts.  

Taking a chance on a former top prospect is always something organizations like to do and Arroyo looks like he may become a late bloomer, he was ranked as high as #62 overall as recently as 2016.  His time with the Giants never panned out, he was moved in the blockbuster deal that brought Evan Longoria to San Franciscio. Never really catching on with the Rays, Arroyo became a journeyman that is finally finding a home, still just 26 years old he could still be an impact player in the league.  He currently boasts a .792 OPS and it is climbing as Red Sox manager Alex Cora has shown big time confidence in him.

Patrick Wisdom- Chicago Cubs

Patrick Wisdom was always that prospect in the St. Louis’ system that the fans were waiting to see make an impact.  That time never occurred in St. Louis, in fact it seemed like Wisdom was never going to cash in on the promise he showed when he smacked 31 homers in triple-A in 2017.  The Cardinals moved on from Wisdom, he ended up in Texas where he got a short opportunity before being sent on his way to the Chicago Cubs in the offseason. 

The Cubs likely had very little plan to utilize Wisdom, but injuries and poor play led to the chance for the 29 year old and he has taken full advantage of it in just ten games.  Wisdom has matched the record set by Reds Aristedes Aquino by hitting 8 homers in just ten games. Regression is obviously coming but the impact that Wisdom has made on the Cubs since being inserted into the lineup has led them to the top of the the NL Cental. 

Taijaun Walker- New York Mets

Much like the aforementioned Christain Arroyo, Taijuan Walker was a big deal coming up through the minors for the Seattle Mariners. Things never really worked out in Seattle, but Walker seemed to find himself once he was moved to the Arizona Diamondbacks.  In 2017 Walker was just 9-9 but was able to set career marks in nearly every statistic, ERA, xFIP, K/9 and BA against.  Walker dealt with a few injury riddled seasons in 2018 and 2019 but again showed his improvement once healthy in 2020.  

He entered the offseason is an afterthought, eventually signing with the Mets for a meager 3yr, $23 million dollar contract.  Walker has vaulted into the #2 spot in the Mets rotation and has helped them overcome a lackluster start from their offense.  Despite two different stints on the IL, Walker has still amassed 11 starts, 5 wins, 2.07 ERA, 2.83 FIP and a 1.8 WAR.  

Willy Adames- Milwaukee Brewers

Trading Willy Adames was a surprise to a lot of major league baseball.  Adames is still just 25 years old and is coming off of his best season in the bigs, helping lead the Rays to the AL pennant.  Adames’s time with the Rays was numbered with Wander Franco likely making his debut sooner rather than later but the Brewers may have found themselves a gem at a low cost.  

Adames has always brought a great glove with him but last season he peaked with a 124 WRC+, while knocking in 29 runs in a shortened season.  Adames had been struggling at the plate early in the season but since the move has lit a fire under a Brewers offense that needed all the help they could get.  In 15 games with the Brew Crew, Adames has driven in 11 runs.  He will never consistently hit over .300, but he will be productive against lefties and can provide stability at a position that the Brewers have had very little success getting production.  

Rich Hill- Tampa Bay Rays

Rich Hill is 41 years old.  He made his debut in 2005 for Chicago Cubs, since that day he has played for nine different teams all around the MLB and has been a mix of effective and embarrassing. The latter being as bad as anyone has seen in all of baseball. Since 2016, though Hill has found himself as a pitcher and when healthy he has been a staple in competetive rotations. Hill has pitched for the Athletics, Dodgers and Twins helping them all get to the playoffs.  

The Rays have a history of striking gold when no one expects and it looks like Hill is the latest achievement for the Tampa front office. He is currently 5-2 with a 3.09 ERA and has made 12 starts without finding himself on the disabled list.  What is amazing about Hill is that in an era that has multiple flamethrowers on every team Hill gets out by utilizing his spin rate and precision.  Since spin rate has been measured in 2015, Hill ranks at the top of most categories for two different pitches (fastball and curveball).  The Rays as a staff are elite, but they do lack a true #2 starter behind Tyler Glasnow, Hill may be the answer.

Why the Angels stink.

The Angels have Mike Trout and Shohei Otani.  One is currently the best baseball player alive, the other is a modern day Babe Ruth that is revolutionizing the game.  Those two player alone should make them a legit contender in any division in major league baseball.  At least, that’s what many baseball analysts believed at the start of 2021.  A popular pick to take the next step this season has been nothing but a disappointment.  They currently are 20-27 just dead last in their division.  The Angels have tons of talent but…they stink.  Why?

They signed Jose Quintana.

Blaming Quintana is harsh but honestly what did they think they were getting.  The Angels had to do something to bolster their rotation but adding Quintana wasn’t putting a bandaid on a cut it was like pouring vinegar on it. Quintana is second on the team in starts and features a glorious 8.53 ERA.  The Angels should have seen this coming, the former White Sox All-Star was coming off of his worst season in the bigs with the Chicago Cubs.  The argument could have been made that it was a small sample size and Wrigley field is a nightmare for any pitcher, but if you take a deeper dive you see that he is giving up massive hard hit rates.  Currently Quintana has a HR/Flyball rate of 21%,  that is five point higher than what was the highest of his career when he gave up a 16% HR/Flyball rate.  He is giving up the long ball like he has a contract incentive.  

The Angels have long had issues with their pitching staff and relying on a veteran that was showing regression in every major category is a huge reason why they stink.  But it is not the only reason. 

Quintana isn’t even the worst.

Signing an regressing veteran to fill in a need in your rotation is dumb. What is even dumber is spending all your money on bats when your staff is throwing BP to the opposing offenses. As a staff, the Angels are ranked dead last in ERA, dead last in WHIP, 28th in isolated power and 28th in OPS.  This pitching staff is not only bad, it is historically pathetic. 

Dylan Bundy was a great story in 2020 but he has regressed to the underwhelming pitcher that was in Baltimore. 

Grffin Canning has potential.  At least that is what I keep hearing.  I have never actually seen it but I feel like the Angels keep telling themselves that Canning is good eventually they will be right.  

The bullpen is laughable.  Mike Mayers was closing for them at one point this season.  The same Mayers that had a historically bad MLB debut with the Cardinals back in 2016 (look it up if you haven’t seen it.) 

The Angels loaded their team with top of the order bats but that they could just fill some holes in the pen and rotation.  It hasn’t worked and unless they randomly strike pitching gold, this team is going to live in the poor house.

Where is Jo Adell?

Angels top prospect Jo Adell was not an immediate impact bat when he made his debut in 2020.  While he didn’t dazzle in his first taste of the bigs he has begun the minor league season showing the potential that he possesses.  The former 10th overall pick of the Angels in 2017 has already hit 10 homeruns in just 17 games this season at triple-A.  The Angels offense has found some hidden gems over the last two seasons with Jared Walsh and David Fletcher taking over major roles in the offense but injuries have depleted alot of the offense and as a team they could use some new blood to spark the team. Also David Fletcher is horrible right now.  

Adell isn’t a big need.  The offense has been productive despite losses of key contributors throughout the season. When a team is in a funk they need to find a way to inspire and the power and youth of Adell can help overcome the problems they are having with the pitching staff. 

Why the Twins stink.

The Minnesota Twins currently sit at 13-25 after a loss Sunday to the Oakland Athletics. Currently they are  in last place in the AL Central division, a division that they have won the last two seasons. Minnesota’s rapid decline is one that has shocked the baseball world. The Chicago White Sox entered the season projected as the favorite to dethrone the division champs but we are currently 38 games into the season Minnesota looks more like a team ready to begin a rebuild rather than make a run into the playoffs. In fact no team in the last 100 years has been able to overcome losing 25 of their first 38 games to eventually make the playoffs. This was a team that was looking to not only win their division but contend for a world series.  So, the question is, why do the Twins stink?  I have a few thoughts.

Jose Berrios is not a #1 starter. 

The Twins have been waiting for Jose Berrios to take the reins as the star we seem to perceive him to be at the top of the rotation. His numbers look decent, 3.74 ERA, 26.8% K percentage and a 3.38 xFIP. Numbers don’t always tell the full story for Berrios.  He has shown an inability to dominate an opposing offense when his team needs it. His team has gone 4-4 in his starts.  His 4 wins were against Seattle, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Oakland.  Outside of Oakland the other three offenses rank at the bottom of all of major league baseball. When he pitches he gets hit hard, his barrel % is the highest it has been in his entire MLB career sitting at 12% while he has also given up his highest hard hit percentage in his career.

Berrios has had pressure to be an ace since his original call up.  The Twins have made efforts to put pitchers around Berrios but they have continued to hope he would ascend into the role rather than understand the player he is.  He is a solid, potentially all-star level pitcher that doesn’t have the ability to be the ace of a staff. Guys like Kenta Maeda, JA Happ and Michael Pineda are all similar pitchers to Berrios and that is not enough to bring this team back from a terrible start. 

Struggling stars.  

Miguel Sano, .135/.297/.257

Jorge Polanco, .244/.311/.393

Mitch Garver, .189/.255/.422

Max Kepler, .212/.304/.414

The Twins bats haven’t been the biggest issue duing the season. Luis Arreaz, Nelson Cruz and Byron Buxton have been phenomenal to start the season but after the top four of the lineup the fall off is drastic.  Minnesota was starting to see the future as top prospect Alex Kiriloff seemed to be finding his stride in the bigs until an injury derailed his progress. The Twins have a top ten team batting average but rank 25th overall in runners left on base while in scoring position.  Their top heavy lineup is getting on but the bottom can’ pick them up. For the Twins to dig themselve out of this hole they will need someone to pick up the slack.  Max Kepler has now returned from the Covid list and Jorge Polanco has begun to pick up the pace over the last few weeks.  If they can get things going the Twins offense can take off to match the top dog of the division, the Chicago White Sox.

Bullpen issues were never addressed. 

Minnesota has a bottom five pitching staff.  The starters have struggled but the bullpen has been especially troublesome.  Offseason additions Hansel Robles and Alex Colome were supposed to fill in the gaps along with Taylor Rogers.  Colome, the former White Sox closer, has been a complete bust.   Colome’s struggles are just the beginning of the troubles in the Minnesota bullpen.  The bullpen ERA is over 4 and has given up leads like they aren’t sure what they are really supposed to be doing when they enter the game.  The Twins bullpen has a combined record of 2-12 as a team, so they are not only losing tough games but they are blowing leads.  

The Twins starters are just middle of the road and they are being forced to take up more innings due to the fact that Minnesota doesn’t have a single player they can rely on to eat up innings.  Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of options in the minors, their top pitching prospect is Jordan Balazovic has the power fastball that can be a good fit in the bullpen, but in a season that may already be lost it would be stupid to mess with his progression as a starter.  If Minnesota can make a run over the next month to get themselves into playoff position they will have to use their top ten farm system to get themselves some help in the backend.  The offense still has time to rebound and the starters are veterans.  This bullpen is a problem, the biggest problem for the Twins.  It is the may reason that they stink.

Two Contenders, Two Pretenders

Contender- Boston Red Sox (14-9) 5.65 RPG 

Boston didn’t have high expectations this season.  The AL East was considered the deepest division in the American League. The Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays all had high expectations coming into 2021 but it has been the Red Sox that have been the most impressive team standing on top of the league, led by their stout offense. 

The Red Sox are the #1 in slugging percentage (.468), 6th in ISO (.180), 1st in hits per game (9.75), third in runs per game (5.17).  The offense has excelled despite the fact that offseason additions Hunter Renfroe, Marwin Gonzalez and Kike Hernandez have given them basically nothing to this point of the season.  Last year’s standout Bobby Dalbec just hit his first homer last night against the mets.  With all of these guys not performing, how is the offense so good?? Simple answer is the return to form of one of the best hitters in baseball over the last five years, JD Martinez.  Martinez has erased the memory of 2020 and begun to return to dominance with a slash line that seems almost inconceivable, .370/.446/.753.  Martinez also has a new co-host to his barrel party, the often forgotten piece of the Mookie Betts trade, Alex Verdugo.  The long-time Dodger top prospect has finally found his swing and together, he and Martinez are running through the league.  

The Red Sox offense has prevailed in an AL East that has suddenly become very winnable with the struggles of the Yankees and the injuries to the Blue Jays.  The Sox will be around for awhile because they rebuilt their bullpen and found the offense that was never seen in 2020 

Pretender- Seattle Mariners (13-9)

Seattle is a town known for their rainy weather but the future of their baseball team is very bright.  The sunshine has begun to peak through the clouds at the start of the 2021 season.  The Mariners are still waiting for their star prospects to make their way to the bigs.  Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are both going to be in the bigs sooner rather than later but for now the Mariners are showing signs of life with their current crop of rising stars.  Ty France has looked like the diamond of the deal made last year with San Diego, Taylor Trammell has gotten some big hits and is showing major power and Marco Gonzalez seems like a steal.  

The Mariners have come out of the gates on fire.  They are pulling out victories that they would not have a year prior.  Their bullpen has been great for Seattle but their lack of depth in the rotation is already starting to show.  Outside of Chris Flexen the rotation has a cumulative ERA of over 4.5.  As a staff they are bottom ten in walks per game, they give up a ton of free bases and it has come back to haunt them.  Seattle has given their fnabse some hope for the future but it would be the best situation for them to move on from veterans like Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger at the deadline to try and continue to build up the pitching staff.  As the Astors get healthy and the Angels find their consistency on offense, Seattle will be fighting to stay out of the cellar of their own division. 

Contender- Milwaukee Brewers (13-8)

The Brewers stink on offense, like historically. As a team Milwaukee is hitting just .208, good for 27th in baseball and they strike out 28% of their at bats.  This is a team that for half of the season actually had Christian Yelich in their lineup. Despite their abysmal offense the Brewers still find themselves on top of the NL Central.  

The offense is putrid but Manager Craig Counsell finds ways to get just enough from his bats to back up his elite level pitching.  Corbine Burnes leads a staff that has been lights out from the start of the season and shows no signs of slowing down.  Along with Burnes is ace 1A Brandon Woodruff, who has allowed just five runs in 29 innings pitched this year.  On most teams that would make him the “top guy”, in this rotation, he is just another guy.  Milwaukee is more than just a top two, 25-year old Freddy Peralta looks to finally be healthy enough to show off the potential the organization has always seen in him.  Peralta has announced himself to the league and makes for a filthy #3 starte .  

The Brewers will eventually get their star Christian Yelich back.  His time away has allowed other players to get more at-bats and find their way at the plate. Long time prospect Billy McKinney has shown some pop and veteran slugger Travis Shaw has seemed to be reborn in his return to the Brewers after a season away in Toronto.  The Brew Crew will never be a potent offense but they have enough power to put themselves up at any moment and feature some of the nastiest arms out of the bullpen as you will ever see.  The NL Central is currently up for grabs and this team can pitch themselves into the playoffs.  

Pretender- San Francisco Giants (14-8)

The Giants currently sit in second place in the NL West and first place in the very early wild card rankings.  The Giants have leaned on their pitching staff in 2021, currently as a team they have the third lowest ERA (2.94) sitting just behind division powerhouses the Dodger and Padres.  San Francisco has accumulated this pitching staff by taking a lot of risks on veterans in free agency.  Their rotation consists of Aaron Sanchez, Alex Wood, Anthony DeScalfani, Johnny Cueto, Kevin Gausman and Logan Webb.  Only Cueto could conceivable consider himself ever to be a team’s #1 starter, the rest were talented guys that have never panned out on the major league level consistently but they have found a home with the Giants. They are a staff that doesn’t give up free passes, they force teams to put the ball in play and it has worked out so far. 

The Giants know how to take advantage of a matchup. You will likely never see Darin Ruf or Austin Slater both in the lineup against a righty and the same goes for Alex Dickerson against a lefty. The Giants play their advantage and do what they can to get the most out of their hitters.  Their offseason addition of Tommy LaStella added another veteran to a lineup that is loaded with quality hitters.  Evan Longoria has had a resurgence to begin the season, leading the team with a .972 OPS, while future hall of famer Buster Posey has also picked up his old form with a .911 OPS.  The Giants rely on matchups and 

The NL West is very top heavy so the Giants could find themselves with a chance to make a run for a wild card spot by beating up the bottom dwellers Arizona and Colorado but they lack the depth in the rotation to make a long run.  What San Fran has done to start the season has impressed but they are yet to have a single matchup against the elite in the national league.  When they get their matchups with the Dodgers and Padres reality will set in and that reality is that they are rebuilding.  They have some solid major league talent but to compete in the loaded NL West they need more firepower  If their veteran rotation continues to impress they will have solid trade chips to improve their top ten ranked farm system.  Joey Bart and Mario Luciano will be on their way to the bigs leagues soon and this team will be ready to make a run, but not this year.

St. Louis Cardinals Season Outlook

The baseball season has snuck up on us.  Seems like just yesterday Cardinal nation was asking for John Mozilieak’s head after watching their former star prospect Randy Arozarena lighting up opposing pitchers on the biggest stage baseball has.  What was once a mutiny has turned into a celebration of brilliance after obtaining Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies for Austin Gomber and some spare giveaways he found in a Memphis promotional closet.  The Cardinals enter the 2021 season as the favorites to win the national league central.  Depsite some injuries that have derailed the plans in the rotation this team should still have high hopes heading into the summer.  

The Infield

The Cardiansl finalized their 26-man roster today.  While the mainstays were not in question a few decisions showed the direction the team is looking to go in this season. Most notably was the addition of 28-year old John Nogowski making his first opening day roster.  Nogowski was a longshot coming into spring but his bat made him impossible to overlook.  His 3:1 BB/K rate seems like an anomaly in today’s game, to compare it to a modern day player is impossible.  In fact you there hasn’t been a player since Barry Bonds to put up that kind of ratio.  

Nogowski will fill a role that is currently being held by Matt Carpenter.  Carpenter’s spring was the complete opposite of his counterpart, getting one hit in 35 at bats.  This is not just a veteran struggling to get going, this has become a recurring theme of the aging Carpenter.  The organization understood that his time was up or else you likely don’t see the move to bring in Nolan Arenado and Nogowski likely doesn’t get a chance to make the team.

Tommy Edman will step right into the role vacated by gold glover Kolten Wong.  He is a strong defender up the middle, but his bat will be his most important attribute.  Edman will get the first shot at the leadoff spot, a part of the order that has been in flux for the last two seasons.  Wong took over the role last year but was not able to be as effective as the Cardinals needed last season.  Edman will be protected by arguably the best corner infield combination in all of baseball, he has to be able to get on base and force pitchers to throw to Arenado and Goldschmidt.  If he does not improve on his .317 OBP the Cardinals will again find themselves looking for answers at the top of the order. 

Paul Dejong is overrated.  That is all I have to say about that.  

The Outfield

Justin Williams will play a prominent role off of the bench as the lone left-handed bat outside of Carpenter on the bench.  Williams brings the pop that is needed in late inning situations and he may see even more playing time with the injury to Harrison Bader.  The outfield still has a few question marks, presumably it will be O’Neil in LF, Carlson in CF and whomever matches up best in right field.  Sending down Lane Thomas made it clear that the Cardinasl will lean on Carlson to man center until Bader recovers.  

The key to the outifled and potentially the entire lineup will be the emergence of Tyler O’Neil.  O’Neil will be given the chance to play everyday and if he succeeds then this lineup will succeed.  The power and speed he brings to the table is hard to match based on raw ability.  Moving on from Dexter Fowler was an indication that the club thinks he is ready to break out.  He will be tested early with teams not letting Arenado or Goldschmidt beat them, they will take their chance with O’Neil and he will make them pay. 

The Arms.

St. Louis has had a lot of rotational depth in their system for a number of years and each one of those years it gets tested.  The Cardinals will start 2021 with Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Kwang Hyun Kim all on the IL, Hudson will likely miss the entire season.  The Cardinals will roll with Jon Gant and Daniel Ponce de Leon at the end of the rotation.  Both solid major league arms, both having the same problem… they don’t eat up many innings.  Ponce de Leon has averaged only four innings per start in his career and Gant, who was a former starter with the Braves is coming off multiple seasons primarily out of the bullpen. 

St. Louis will have to rely on their bullpen to eat up a lot of innings early in the season.  Most notably we should see a lot of innings from former first round pick Jake Woodford.  He will be called upon in long relief roles in tight games.  Genesis Cabrera, the power lefty picked up from the Rays will also likely see multiple innings of relief for each appearance.  Both Cabrera and Woodford are young arms that haven’t dealt with the longevity of a full major league season.  We will likely see a rotation of arms throughout the year.  Guys like Johan Oviedo, Zach Thompson, Kody Whitley and Mathew Liberatore will all make appearances for the major league team.  The Cardinal will have to rely on their depth of arms to make a run and luckily they have the guys to get them through the season.  If they do need additional help their depth should allow them to make a move for a veteran arm at the trae deadline.  One that could make a difference down the stretch. 

The rotation will rely on Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright to be as  great as they have shown over the last two seasons.  Veteran Carlos Martinez is a wild card in this situation but his potential has shown through before and his usage of the cutter through spring training has made him more efficient and effective.  The key to Martinez will be controlling his pitch count and his emotions.  If he can do both he will be a nice fit behind the veteran and the ace.  

Conclusion

The Chicago Cubs let most of their pitching staff go, the Brewers didn’t do enough to improve their offense, the Reds don’t seem to know what their direction is. The Cardinals will rely on their pitching depth and firepower in the middle of their order.  They compare well in every facet of the game against all of their NL Central counterparts.  If they get anything from Tyler O’Neil and Tommy Edman on offense they should be set.  They could be on the market for a veteran starter at the trade deadline to consider themselves true contenders for an NL Championship but they should be the frontrunners to win their division. 

Central Division Prediction

St. Louis Cardinals

Milwaukee Brewers

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates

Betting every Sweet 16 Game

Oregon State Beavers vs Loyola-Chicago Ramblers -6.5, 125.5

Oregon State lost to Portland this year.  This was not the Trailblazers, it was the team that went 0-11 in the West Coast Conference.  They now find themselves in the sweet 16 facing off against the Missouri Valley Conference champs, the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers.  

The fact that they busted brackets is not the only thing these two teams have in common.  They both play extremely tight defense and move the ball at their own pace, which is slow.  This game has first to 60 wins written all over it.  The Ramblers were able to run whatever they wanted on offense against the Illini, that won’t be the case on Saturday.  The Beavers have imposed their will on everyone since the start of the Pac12 tournament. 

The Beavers can rely on Ethan Thompson to get points and they have a solid point guard that will keep them in the game down the stretch, oh and they are the 2nd  best free throw shooting team left in the tournament (that is huge).  The Rambler’s are better on the offensive end which should get them the win, but the Beavers are too hot, they keep this close. 

Pick: Oregon State +6.5, Under 125.5

Villanova Wildcats vs. Baylor Bears -6.5, 141

I am not going to pretend that I didn’t pick North Texas to upset Villanova. I thought the loss of Colin Gillispie was going to be a problem against the defense of North Texas, Nova came out like they were playing NBA Jam on fire mode. They have been solid from deep all year, shooting 35%, if they can continue to hit shots they can keep it competitive.  Their offense running through Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is not going to be the problem, their effective field goal percentage against being outside of the top 200 is going to be the black sharpie on their bracket.  

The Baylor Bears showed us the team we all enjoyed before their covid pause.  The three headed monster Jared Butler, Macio Teague and Davion Mitchell will be tough for Villanova to cover.  Also there is this guy that had his coming out party in the round of 32, his name is Mathew Mayer.  Mayer had 17 points against Wisconsin, at 6-9, shooting 45 percent from three, he is showing the world why he is a darkhorse NBA prospect.  Also his hair is awesome. It’s intimidating.

Nova had some nice performances against Winthrop and North Texas, but let’s be real here Winthrop and North Texas were double digit seeds for a reason.  Baylor has too much speed and will pressure the ball and cause turnovers.  With no Gillispie I can’t see Villanova controlling anything in this one. 

Pick: Baylor Bears -6.5

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles vs. Arkansas Razorbacks -11.5, 159

Cinderella stories are great, but stories have endings.  This ending may come on Saturday but damn it should be pretty entertaining. The Golden Eagles can bring it on the offensive end, they are one of the fastests teams in the country ranking 52 in tempo, they are 12th in 3pt percentage and 80th in offensive efficiency. 

These two teams have met before and they were able to combine for 162 points, that was with a sluggish start from Arkansas.  Both of these teams want to play fast, this one will be uptempo and efficient on the offensive end.  Two NBA prospects in Moses Moody and Max Abmas will match up in a game that will be fun to watch.  This one is going to be closer than most think.  The Razorbacks have gotten off to a few slow starts so far in the tournament, if they do that again against the Golden Eagles they can find it tough to come back due to the firepower they will have against them. 

There will be points.  After the sluggish affair we will see between Loyola and Oregon State. We will need this.

Pick: Over 159, Oral Roberts +11.5

Syracuse Orange vs. Houston Cougars -6, 140

The Houston Cougars slipped by Rutgers while Syracuse did what Syracuse does, win in March.  The Cougars could not have gotten a better matchup, they are the best offensive rebounding team in the country, averaging an offensive rebound 39% of the time.  The zone defense is susceptible to the offensive rebound.  

The Syracuse Orange have gotten hot at the right time.  The coach’s kid, Buddy Boeheim has led the way averaging 26 ppg over the last six games.  He has had help from Illinois transfer Alan Griffin who is averaging 13 ppg and Quincy Guerrier averaging 13.9.

Their hot shooting has created an illusion that they have a chance to move on to the elite 8.  Their history and their zone gimmick will be exposed by a Houston team that specializes in shooting down opposing shooters.  The Cougars are the best in college basketball against opposing team shooting percentages.  The defense and rebounding that Houston brings to the table is going to overcome an overrated Orange team. 

Pick: Houston Cougars -6

Florida State Seminoles vs Michigan Wolverines -3, 144

The Seminoles and the Wolverines are seem to be the only teams that got the memo of how brackets are supposed to play out.  Both have played to their expectations, Michigan even doing it without their star Isaiah Livers.  The Wolverines will need to slow the pace to and work inside Hunter Dickinson on offense while pressuring the Seminoles ball handlers on defense.  

Florida State has one big weakness, they can be loose with the ball ranking 251st in the nation in turnover percentage.  Michigan’s defense is not one that causes a lot of turnovers, they thrive more on playing man to many and have Dickinson inside to be their to clean up any messes.  

With Isiah Livers I would be all over Michigan covering this spread, without him I can’t see how the Wolverines consistently score against a very good Florida State defensive unit.  The Seminoles have more options on offense and should get this win.  

Pick: Florida State ML, Under 144

Creighton Bluejays vs Gonzaga Bulldogs -13, 158

The Bluejays got a herculaneum effort from their star Marcus Zagarowski in their win over Ohio in the round of 32.  Creighton controlled the game from start to finish, something that they would like to do against the juggernaut Gonzaga Bulldogs.  The problem for Creighton will face is that Gonzaga has the ability to play at any tempo.  They can slow you down by feeding Drew Timme in the post or speed you up by letting Jalen Suggs run the break, and of course there is Cory Kispert to deal with. The Zags are second in the nation in scoring and first in the nation in field goal percentage. 

Creighton has problems with teams that can score in the paint.  Go watch their two losses to Georgetown this season and you can see they have no answer for interior scoring.  Drew Timme is going to force a double team which will leave one of the litany of talented scorers with no coverage for easy buckets.  Creighton will keep in close early, but their defense in the paint and struggles at the free throw line will allow the nation’s only undefeated team to stay that way and cover the number. 

Pick: Gonzaga -13

Oregon Ducks vs USC Trojans -2.5, 139.5

This game seems familiar.  We have seen it play out a few times over the years.  This season they met one time and it was a buttkicking by the USC Trojans 72-58.  The usual suspect was not the lead contributor, Evan Mobley played a subpar game by his standards, scoring just 11 points.  The Trojans were led by guards Tahj Eddy (24pts) and Drew Peterson (15 points, 11 rebounds).  They will need similar contributions in order to take down an Oregon team that flashed some of its potential explosiveness against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the second round.  

The Ducks have the talent to compete with a skilled USC team that showed some of their dominance in a route of Kansas.  Chris Duarte is a stud that should be on NBA radar as the draft approaches, his shot making ability will have to be on par as USC has a clear advantage in the paint.  The USC defense has to control the pace. Iowa allowed Oregon to move quickly  and not allow the defense to get set.  USC has to control the glass, if they do they control this game.  

Pick: USC -2.5 

UCLA Bruins vs. Alabama Crimson Tide – 6, 145.5

If this game was going on two weeks ago the Crimson Tide would be close to a double digit favorite against the Bruins.  The Pac12 convinced bookmakers that they are to be taken seriously with four teams competing in the sweet sixteen.  The Bruins thrive on controlling the pace and making it a grind.  They rarely turn the ball over and have made the most of their offensive possessions in their three games so far in the tournament.  

The Crimson Tide will look to impose their will and highlight their elite athletes. John Petty, Jordan Shackelford, Herb Jones, Javon Quinerly can all take over a game.  Their weapons were on full display in their domination of the Maryland Terrapins.  Bama put up 96 points against a defense that was only giving up 65 points per game.  They don’t just do it on offense, they can disrupt the flow of the game on the defensive end.

Pick: Alabama -6, Under 145.5

Deep Fantasy Sleepers MLB


Bobby Dalbec, 1B, Boston Red Sox (ADP 285)

Do you like dingers?   We all like dingers, Bobby Dalbec really likes dingers.  He hits them in bunches.  In 2019 Dalbec smashed 27 homers in 130 games in the Red Sox minor league system.  He immediately jumped up the prospect list for Boston becoming their top power prospect in the system.  His power transitioned very well in his first official shot in the show.  In 23 games last season he hit eight homers with an insane .330 ISO.  

The path has been cleared for the 25 year-old rookie.  Mitch Moreland was moved last season and the team has moved on from the thought of Michael Chavis at first base.  Dalbec will be inserted right into the middle of a lineup that features plenty of protections around him.  His bat is made for Fenway Park’s green monster and he will be a value for anyone looking for power in the late rounds.  He brings a high strikeout rate and a lack of on-base consistency but with an ADP of 285 he is an extreme value for someone that needs depth and huge potential upside. 

Jared Walsh, 1B, Los Angeles Angels (ADP 208)

The Angels found themselves a gem last season.  The 27-year-old Walsh hit 9 homers and knocked in 26 runs in just 30 games during the 2020 campaign.  Walsh is a late bloomer, but the power didn’t come from nowhere.  In 2018 Walsh had a .329 ISO and in 2019 he followed that up with a .361 ISO in triple-A.  The Angels have a surplus of power hitting first baseman and DH candidates but they won’t be able to ignore the production that Walsh brings.  

Albert Pujols has already announced that he intends to retire at the end of the season and the Angels need to look toward the future at the position.  Walsh brings power and a solid defensive ability which will be an asset to the Angels.  At-bats will be inconsistent this season to start but he is worth a shot in the later rounds to stash. He can easily find himself with consistent opportunities hitting in front of Mike Trout and behind David Fletcher. 

Dylan Moore, INF/OF, Seattle Mariners (ADP 156)

Dylan Moore was a huge pick up for me last season.  His ability to play mutliple positions makes him a great fit into any fantasy lineup.  He had a terrific 2020, in 38 games Moore stole 12 bases, hit 8 homers with an OPS of .854.  The Mariners are in a transition year, with top prospects Taylor Trammell, Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic soon to be joining Kyle Lewis in the middle of the order, Seattle will be looking to find out who else will be rounding out their roster for the future.  

Moore has the flexibility to fit into the Seattle lineup everyday and hit at the top of the order due to his speed.  Last season had a bit of luck involved but his tools are great for anyone looking for literally anything.  

Bobby Bradley, 1B, Cleveland Indians, (ADP 819)

Fantasy pros has Bobby Bradley projecting in the 800’s.  Calling him a sleeper is very much an understatement.  Bradley brings real power to the table, hitting 33 homers last year in triple-A and following it up with a terrific spring training.  The 24-year old Bradley has been a top prospect in the Indians system since being drafted in 2014.  When given at bats all he does is produce.  In his minor league career his WRC+ has never gone below 109 and his ISO has never gone below .175.  

The Indians cleared the path for Bradley this offseason and he has shown what he can do in the spring.  A young Indians team can allow him to continually get at-bats in the middle of the lineup.  You may not even need to draft Bradley but keep your eye on him post draft if you need some power. 

Myles Straw, SS/OF, Houston Astros (ADP #322)

Astros manager Dusty Baker announced that Myles Straw is a likely candidate to take over the lead-off role with the departure of George Springer.  Straw gives you two position flexibility at both SS and OF.  Straw has been a top prospect in the Astros system since 2015, he got his first real chance in the majors in 2019 where he showed some of his potential stealing 8 bases, scoring 27 runs with a .378 OBP in 56 games.  

Spring training has been a revelation for what he can bring to the Astros with a slash line of .346/.370/.500.  If he is named starter his ADP of #322 makes him an extreme bargain for anyone looking to get a player that will score runs and steal bases.  

NCAA Tournament: West Regional Breakdown

Top Four Seeds

  1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
  2. Iowa Hawkeyes
  3. Kansas Jayhawks
  4. Virginia Cavaliers

“Gonzaga hasn’t been tested in weeks.” That’s the take everyone loves to bring up when they talk about the Gonzaga Bulldogs.  The difference between this team and the ones of the past is Jalen Suggs.  The Zags have not had an NBA level talent like him on the roster in the last ten years.  Suggs, along with Kispert, Timme and the rest of the roster are primed for domination and I think they have the matchups to make a long run very possible.  This team was able to beat Kansas, Iowa, Virginia and West Virginia before beginning their dominant run in the West Coast Conference.  This team has only gotten better and will show it on a run to the final four. 

The 2nd seeded Iowa Hawkeyes have their sights set on a run led by Luka Garza, the biggest issue for Iowa will be on the defensive front and that will be exposed in the second round when they have the potential of meeting up with Chris Duarte and the Oregon Ducks.  Oregon will not have an answer for Garza but Oregon brings a real challenge at every other position.  Can Fran McCafferey get his guys ready for upper level offensive units?  He hasn’t proven to do it yet.

The Kansas Jayhawks may have the biggest question mark of the entire bracket.  They are dealing with a recent Covid stoppage that affected their chances to win the Big12 tournament.  The Jayhawks appeared to have found their groove towards the end of  the conference campaign, winning against powerhouse Baylor.   They followed it up with a lackluster performance against UTEP in a randomly scheduled game.  Kansas has the talent to make easy work of Eastern Washington but then they run into the USC Trojans barring an upset and that will be a problem for the Jayhawks.  The length of the Trojans will be trouble for Kansas, they will have to find a way to stop dominant big man Evan Mobley and that is a question that they will not have an answer for.  

Virginia is dealing with a similar issue that Kansas is dealing with.  Coming off of a COVID pause and a season that did not turn out the way they had hoped, the Cavaliers enter a matchup with one of the hottest teams in the country the Ohio Bobcats.  The Bobcats ran through the MAC tournament stomping Buffalo in the final.  The Bobcats have one of the best players in the country in Jason Preston.  Preston has the ability to break down any defense including the vaunted Virginia packline defense.  

First Round Upsets

UC Santa Barbara Gauchos over Creighton Bluejays

The Gauchos come from a conference that doesn’t get much hype unless you are a late night degenerate gambler much like myself.  They however are playing some of the best basketball in the country and could bring some problems to the Creighton Bluejays.  The Gauchos are 56th in the nation in effective shooting percentage as well as one of the most consistent offensive units in basketball.  They are meeting a similar offensive unit led by Marcus Zagarowski.  The Bluejays are similar to the Gauchos with one of the most effective shooting percentages in college hoops. 

The Bluejays were exposed by Georgetown in the Big East final, they have a problem on the boards and a problem at the free throw line. Creighton gives up nine offensive boards per game ranking 242nd in the nation and they are 329th in free throw percentage.  Both of these factors will give you problems in the tournament.

Ohio Bobcats over Virginia Cavaliers

I already explained this.  Jason Preston will be a problem for every team in the tournament if he is healthy.  This is not the same Cavalier team that won the tournament in 2019.

Teams that can make a run- USC Trojans

The Trojans come out of the not so vaunted Pac 12 so some of their ability is getting overlooked.  Everyone has heard of Evan Mobley, likely a top five pick in the NBA draft.  He alone is good enough to get them at least one victory in the NCAA tournament.  If you look at the draw that USC got they should have a few favorable matchups.  They likely will match up with the Kansas Jayhawks that will have problems dealing with the length that USC brings to the table.  The Trojans have the ability to shut down any offense and Kansas will have trouble doing anything.  

If they get by Kansas a potential matchup with Iowa is a juicy spot for all college basketball lovers.  Luka Garza vs Evan Mobley is a matchup that can headline any basketball slate. Mobley and company are an achilles heel for the Hawkeyes.  USC has problems at the free throw line which could end up costing them but Tahj Eddy and Ethan Anderson both shoot over 39% from deep which will open up the middle for the unstoppable force Evan Mobley.  

West Regional Bracket Winner- Gonzaga Bulldogs