American League batting champion: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Ramirez had an outstanding 2017 season, batting .318 with 29 home runs and 186 hits in 152 games. The switch-hitting spark plug of the Tribe established himself as one of the best pure hitters in baseball last season. At just 25 years old, Ramirez has yet to enter the prime of his career, leaving an incredibly high ceiling. His proficiency from both sides of the plate, along with his ability to stay healthy for 150-plus games, should allow Ramirez to thrive.
National League batting champion: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
Sometimes a change of scenery is just what a player needs to realize just how good he is. Yelich, much to his delight, was traded this offseason from the Miami Marlins to the Brewers. Yelich now joins a young, competitive team looking to make a splash in the National League Central. Not only is Yelich part of a better lineup, but he is also in a more hitter-friendly ballpark in Milwaukee, which should allow him to improve on his already impressive 2017 numbers (.282/.369/.439, 18 homers, 81 RBIs, 16 steals). Yelich has all the tools, and now he gets a real chance to show them off.
American League Rookie of the Year: Dustin Fowler, Oakland Athletics
Japanese two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani was the favorite for this award before he struggled mightily in spring training. Fowler, a 23-year-old center fielder acquired by the Athletics from the New York Yankees as part of the Sonny Gray deal, is looking to make an impact of his own. Fowler is recovering from a ruptured patellar tendon that he sustained in his major league debut last season. Before the injury, Fowler was hitting .293 for the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate. Oakland’s lack of outfield depth should give Fowler plenty of playing time, and a return to form could see him emerge as the AL’s top rookie.
National League Rookie of the Year: Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins
It is going to be a long and arduous 2018 season for Marlins fans. The team is sorely lacking premier talent following the exodus of players such as Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Yelich and Dee Gordon. However, the Marlins did get some young talent in return this offseason, one of them being Brinson, who was acquired from Milwaukee as part of the Yelich deal. Brinson, 23, hit .331 with 13 home runs in 76 Triple-A games last season. He will get the chance to play every day as the Marlins begin their long rebuilding process, of which he is a central figure. A full season’s worth of at-bats in a weaker division could yield tremendous results for Brinson and the Marlins.
American League Cy Young Award: Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander … those are the names that lead the discussion of, “Who are the best pitchers in the American League?” However, there is another formidable fireballer in the AL who could challenge those veterans, and his name is Marcus Stroman. Coming off a 13-win season, Stroman is poised to once again lead the Blue Jays’ pitching staff, and this could be the year he takes over the entire league. He will have to cut down on the 21 home runs he gave up in 2017, but a healthy, more efficient season would put Stroman right in the mix for the AL Cy Young Award.
National League Cy Young Award: Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks
As in the American League, there are several prominent names that come to mind when thinking about the best pitchers in the National League: Clayton Kershaw, now-injured Madison Bumgarner and Max Scherzer, who won the NL Cy Young Award each of the past two seasons. However, Ray is a dark-horse candidate who has all the necessary tools to rise up among the elite performers and snatch away that award. Ray is coming off a stellar 2017 campaign that saw him go 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 218 strikeouts. He also held opposing batters to a paltry .199 batting average last season. He is a strikeout machine who isn’t intimidated by the powerful bats in the NL West. Look for Ray to follow up his impressive season with an even better Cy Young-caliber 2018 campaign.
American League Most Valuable Player: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
With all the talk about Aaron Judge and Stanton anchoring the middle of the fearsome Yankees lineup, don’t forget about the one they call “El Gary.” Sanchez quickly established himself as one of the best offensive catchers in baseball with his 2017 campaign. He hit 33 home runs and batted .278 in 122 games last season. Sanchez could see his production skyrocket this season due to the improvements throughout the entire Yankees’ lineup. Putting up slightly better numbers out of the catcher position could vault Sanchez into MVP contention.
National League Most Valuable Player: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Despite only playing in 117 games last season, Freddie Freeman managed to put up incredibly impressive numbers, batting .307 with 28 home runs. However, a full, injury-free season could be what Freeman needs to place himself back into the MVP discussion. He will have stiff competition from the likes of Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado and Cody Bellinger, just to name a few. Nevertheless, Freeman has shown throughout his career that he possesses both the power and consistency to dominate the NL. His biggest obstacle will be that his team is not likely to contend for the playoffs, and therefore he will not garner as much attention as the aforementioned trio. Regardless, Freeman has all the tools needed to claim the league’s most prestigious award.
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