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Off The Rankings: Players with the Most to Prove in 2016

Off The Rankings aims to fully prepare casual fans for the 2016 baseball season with just the rankings we provide. Guaranteed or your money back.

In this first installment, we are tackling the players with the most to prove in 2016.  These players, for one reason or another, have a lot riding on the forthcoming baseball season.  Their team’s win total could rely inordinately on their performance, their bank account could see tremendous growth with a solid year, or these guys could simply be looking to dig in as legitimate MLB stars worthy of becoming a household name.

Be sure to check out our other Off The Rankings posts as we’ll be providing great content all week and month leading up to Opening Day.  We’ll also be providing great content after Opening Day, so check us out then too.

Without further ado, the top 10 players with the most to prove in 2016:

Honorable Mention: Pablo Sandoval / Hanley Ramirez

These two signed for a whole bunch of money prior to the 2015 season and then combined for -3.8 fWAR.  Both were abyssmal at the plate and are both under contract for another 3 years.  They figure to man the corners of the Red Sox infield, but either may be out of a job if he repeats his 2015 campaign. Travis Shaw hit well last year, and the Red Sox are plenty deep to make moves outside of the organization.  These guys don’t rank higher on the list for two simple reasons.  First, they’re going to get their money, so their 2016 performance isn’t all that important to their bank account.  Second, even if they are both similarly bad, I think the Red Sox can be a great team.  So if the team’s performance and their bank accounts aren’t really affected by this upcoming season, they don’t make the list.

10. Michael Pineda, SP, New York Yankees

Pineda’s 2015 was generally run of the mill, as he posted a 4.37 ERA across 160 innings and made 27 starts. The Yankees rotation is full of question marks, from Mashiro Tanaka’s elbow, through CC Sabathia and Luis Severino‘s effectiveness.  Pineda, now playing his age 27 season and 2 years away from free agency, could take the next step in his development and solidify the Yankees rotation.  He could also take a big step backwards, become the next Edwin Jackson and eventually wind up out of baseball.  He could even repeat his 2015 season that resulted in 0.2 wins above average and continue to fail to live up to his periferral stats.  Pineda’s 2015 FIP was nearly a full run lower than his ERA.  There’s room for regression improvement with Pineda; he just needs to prove he can stay healthy and effective.

9. Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are in the midst of wasting Felix Hernandez‘s prime.  They have been unable to find a second fiddle and Taijuan Walker was rushed into major league action back in 2013.  The righty put together 29 starts last year and is still just 23, but it feels like he’s been around forever.  Will he be able to be the number two starter behind 30 year old King Felix? Is he a Number 2 or a Number 4 starter going forward? Sure, the 157 strikeouts in under 170 innings was great, but the 4.56 ERA while playing his home games at SafeCo must improve.

8. Marcus Stroman, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

Stroman figures to be the Blue Jays number 1 starter to start the year after working his way back from an ACL tear to make 3 electric postseason starts.  He’s 24 and a former first round pick with an amazing repertoire.  But, he’s listed at 5’8″ and we have never seen a pitcher achieve the excellence that is expected of Stroman at that stature.  He needs to prove that he can be healthy, and that he is as good as people hope.  I am skeptical, but this is a big season for Stroman to prove himself among the game’s top 10-20 pitchers.

7. Ian Desmond, SS/LF, Texas Rangers 

Desmond misplayed his contract situation worse than he misplayed the 27 balls he made errors on at shortstop in the nation’s capitol last year.  Desmond shunned $100M offers from the Nationals and wound up with an $8M deal to play left field for the Rangers. Desmond figures to be adept at such a role and has the contract situation of Ben Zobrist (4/$56) as a guide to how utility players/former adequate shortstops figure to get paid in their 30s.  Meanwhile, all this and I’m not convinced Desmond is the slugger that he’s cracked up to be.  Desmond must attempt to prove that he’s something more than the .311 OBP he’s compiled over the last 3 years.

6. Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves

Teheran’s first two seasons in the big leagues were a rousing success.  At ages 22 and 23, he pitched 406.2 big league innings and put together a 3.03 ERA.  But 2015 resulted in a 4.04 ERA and a career high walk rate.  Maybe Teheran was complacent and failed to put in the proper work required of a guy with his mostly average repertoire.  2016 is an important year as Julio looks to captain a Braves rotation that currently lists Bud Norris as the number 2 starter.  Is he a guy with a 3.03 ERA or a 4.04 ERA?  That difference is huge for the outlook of this 25 year old.

5. Wil Myers, 1B/OF, San Diego Padres

Myers was the top prospect in baseball at one point. He was also the Rookie of the Year. Then the last two years came and he hasn’t posted anything close to the type of consistency that those first two sentences portend.  He’s been injured and that explains some of it, but 2016 is a big year for Mr. Myers.  Does he find that magic and finally blossom into a slugger at the ripe age of 25 or does he continue to sag underneath expectations.

4. Jackie Bradley, OF, Boston Red Sox

Bradley won spring training in 2013.  He then went on to hit .196 in over 500 plate appearances the next two years.  2015 started much the same way, but in the second half, JBJ adjusted his stance and approach and managed an .891 OPS in 220 plate appearances.  Is this some semblance of the true Jackie Bradley? At age 26, this could be a make or break year for him.  He doesn’t need a near-900 OPS to be a major league regular, but he needs to produce better than the first 5 semesters of his MLB career.

3. Carlos Gomez, OF, Houston Astros

Gomez is an interesting and exciting player.  He’s a free agent at season’s end and is still something of an unknown.  Apparently he had a hip or abductor issue last year that lead to a non-trade with the Mets.  He wound up on the Astros and managed a .288 OBP in his time in Houston.  This is a guy who finished in the top 20 in MVP votes in 2013 and 2014.  Gomez is 30 now, and this is a big year to prove that his days of stealing 30-40 bases with 20 HR pop are not in the past.

2. Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals

Stephen Strasburg is as talented as anyone to ever pitch.  He’s a former first overall selection, and has the repertoire that should make hitters quiver, but he’s never really put it all together.  He finished 9th in the Cy Young voting one year, and was an all star in 2012, but that’s all he has to show for his 5 year career.  2015 was his worst by ERA, but best by K/BB.  At 27, can he finally put it all together and run through the National League like Jake Arrieta did last year?  Will he ever do that? He’s going to be a free agent after 2016 and he’s presumably going to get paid.  It’s just a matter of whether he makes $200 Million, or $80M.

1. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Yasiel Puig is the wild horse that rubs his teammates the wrong way.  He’s apparently immature, selfish, and always late.  But in 2013 and 2014, Puig was a top-20 player in the National League.  In 2015, between injuries and poor performance, the off the field issues worsened Puig’s perception around the league. Puig is capable of producing huge numbers considering his past successes, but there could come a point where he simply needs to grow up.  25 seems like an ideal age to do so, but with Puig it seems that nothing is for certain. 2016 is the year that we will stop wondering whether Puig will grow up, either because he will or we will simply stop caring.

-Sean Morash

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