MLB: 15 players to watch in the National League

Say hello to your go-to guide on who to watch from every team this MLB season.

We’ve got a player from each team to keep an eye on this season in two posts covering the AL and the NL.

Meet the faces of the National League…

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: Kyle Schwarber

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Kyle Schwarber was a huge help to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series in 2016, hitting .412 and .500 OBP in the postseason.

After the 108-year drought, the Cubs thought they hit the nail on the head with Schwarber in a huge postseason, but the 2017 season came and Schwarber looked terrible!

The Cubs went from World Series champs to having a fuzzy hangover that most 20-something-year-olds have when then wake up on Sunday morning after a night out in Wrigley.

In 2017, he hit .211 and would be sent down to Triple-A. You may be asking yourself, “Jenna, why did you put him on this list?”

It’s because the man has gone through a metamorphosis — he looks like Rocky Balboa!

Schwarber’s off season including him dropping 20 lbs and making a complete lifestyle change!

He’s eating better, he’s quicker and he’s swinging with his hands and not his arms so much.

Schwarber purchased a $3,500 pitching machine this offseason and set it up on the left side of the mound to get more comfortable going up against lefties and so far it’s showing.

In spring training he’s hitting .429 with a .500 OBP against left-handed pitching. The comeback is in full effect! Watch out.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto

At 34 years old, Joey Votto shows no signs of slowing down.

The Cincinnati Reds star comes off an amazing 2017, leading the league in OPS (.454), starting in all 162 games and finishing just one vote behind Stanton in NL MVP voting.

But what’s even more crazy is Votto won’t look at his stats until the end of the season!

In an interview earlier this March with Cincinnati.com, he said he would love if ballpark video-board operators didn’t show his numbers.

But maybe Votto should be aware of his numbers this spring, going 1-for-18 (.154). Don’t worry though — the lull doesn’t seem to phase him.

He knows that spring is a process and if he’s going to suck at some point this year, let it be now and not later.

I believe he’ll figure it out and be what the Reds need him to be when it matters most.

Milwaukee Brewers: Josh Hader

You may have not heard of Josh Hader yet, but believe me you will.

Hader came up last June for the Milwaukee Brewers and it was just a slight preview of what the 23-year-old has to offer to the Brewers bullpen.

This spring in the Cactus League it truly highlighted just how special this kid is going to be.

Hader held batters to a .138 average and went 8.1 scoreless innings over seven spring training appearances with a 0.72 WHIP.

Side note: The man’s got a better set of hair on his head than most women.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Jameson Taillon

 

With the name, Jameson Taillon (AKA my favorite whiskey) you have no choice but to knock batters out on their ass.

As of now, Sir Jameson is living up to the name for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Entering into his third season Taillon has had one impressive spring with 9 2/3 innings pitched to major league hitters with eight strikeouts and only four hits against him, one being a homer from Ozzie Albies.

He’s thrown 11 consecutive strikes to start the game (24 of his first 28).

Besides having some pretty striking numbers, Taillon’s faced many speed bumps in his road: Tommy John surgery, Sports Hernia surgery, getting a 105 mph line drive off his head and being treated for suspected testicular cancer in May of 2017.

Despite every obstacle Taillon has faced one would assume it would discourage or slow a person down, but that is not the case.

You might just want to take note of this kid. This might finally be his break out year at 26.

St. Louis Cardinals: Luke Gregerson

I should start by saying that I’m a little bias with Luke Gregerson for a few reasons.

  1. Gregerson’s late father and my dad were both inducted into the 16in. softball Hall of Fame at the same time.
  2. Him and my cousin Patrick played ball together in college.
  3. He’s a Chicago guy.

But regardless of my personal reasons, he deserves to be on this list!

Gregerson is coming off an amazing year after helping Team USA win its first gold medal in the World Baseball Classic permitting one baserunner in four games and saving three games with a 0.00 ERA.

Oh, and how could I forget, he just won the World Series with Houston!

In the postseason for the Astros, he pitched 3.2 innings with five strikeouts and 0.00 ERA.

The only downside for Gregerson is he’s starting the season on the DL for the St. Louis Cardinals with a “mild” hamstring injury.

We may not see much of him early on, but when he comes back healthy for the Cardinals, Gregerson will be a lights out closer.

 

East

Atlanta Braves: Ozhaino “Ozzie” Albies

Entering into his second season with the Atlanta Braves, Ozzie Albies is going to be one to look out for.

In just 57 games last season, the 21-year-old switch hitter from Willemstad, Netherlands Antilles hit .286, 6 HRs, 28 RBIs and .810 OPS.

His speed is what you really need to look out for.

Last season between Triple-A and the majors he went 29-for-32 in stolen bases.

Let’s just say, I’ll definitely be paying attention to this guy, especially when he’s on base.

Miami Marlins: Lewis Brinson

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With the Miami Marlins in 100% restart mode, the team as a whole might be a little hard to watch this year. Still, look out for Fort Lauderdale native Lewis Brinson.

The 23-year-old, who’s been a Marlins fan his whole life, will be able to represent his hometown and attend his first ever Opening Day while playing center field and be hitting leadoff.

His spring training stats are promising for Marlins fans — .328 AVG, three HRs, seven doubles and a triple in 23 games.

Brinson is young, skilled, athletic, hardworking and wants to improve himself.

And with Brinson playing for his hometown team, I’m guessing he’s going to want to make south Florida proud.

Brinson might also be your NL Rookie of the Year.

New York Mets: Noah Syndergaard

New York Mets ace, Noah Syndergaard aka Thor will be pitching in his second Opening Day.

It’s no surprise that Syndergaard is on this list, he’s one of the best in the game and he’s only 25.

Syndergaard’s spring training stats were impressive — 23 strikeouts in 20 innings and pitching to a batting average of .205 with a 1.35 ERA. This is exactly what Syndergaard needs coming off a lat injury in spring of 2017 that kept him out most of the season.

When he’s on, the Mets are on.

If Thor can stay healthy, which is half the battle, he’ll be ready for many 100 mph fastballs.

Side note: His hair’s so big it’s full of secrets!

Philadelphia Phillies: J.P. Crawford

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In the city of brotherly love J.P. Crawford and the Philadelphia Phillies are ready “to prove people wrong.”

Crawford will be enter his second season with the Phillies, first full season in the big leagues and the 23-year-old shortstop is ready!

In the start of the 2017 season, Crawford had 15 homers in Triple-A. And when he got the call to come up to the big leagues, he played three difference infield positions at an extremely high level and was great.

His bat might take some time to get to where Crawford wants it to be, but I suspect many ESPN top 10 defensive plays from him all season long!

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper

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If you have no idea who this guy is you must be a dinosaur.

Seriously, though.

Bryce Harper will be the talk of the MLB this season because after signing a $21.65 million contract for this season with the Washington Nationals with a $1 million incentive if he wins the Most Valuable Player.

Vegas odds have him winning NL MVP, and then he’ll be a free agent.

And he will most likely be becoming one of the highest paid arbitration-eligible player in MLB history after the end of the season.

I predict he comes to the Cubs, but that’s another story for another time.

Harper’s resume speaks for itself, 2010 Golden Spike Award, which goes to the best amateur player in United States, 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, in 2015 tied the NL in home runs (42), 2015 unanimous NL MVP, 2016 ESPN MLB Person of the Year and 5x All-Star.

The 25-year-old has already established himself as one of baseball’s greatest players, but I think, he thinks, he has more to prove.

No matter how this season goes, the money he’ll make next year will go down in the history books, but depending on how he does his season, we could all be in for a whirlwind.

 

West

Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt 

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Paul Goldschmidt is not only one of the best first basemen in the league, he’s also one of the most consistent players across the board for the for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Last year alone the Dbacks go-to man hit .296, with 36 HRs, 120 RBIs, .967 OPS and a 5.8 WAR.

Goldschmidt is hoping to lead the Dbacks to consecutive postseason berth since 2001-02. Arizona has the tools, but they just need a healthy Goldschmidt all year.

In September 2017, Goldy had some elbow issues and even though he didn’t want to admit that it affected his play, it showed.

In the last month of the season, Goldschmidt hit .171 with a .555 OPS. It was his worst month to date in his big-league career.

However, I wouldn’t be too concerned about that elbow.

His spring stats are comforting, going 9-for-27, a .333 AVG with a .980 OPS.

The 3x Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award winner will be the leader for Arizona to get them back to October.

Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado

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The face of the Colorado Rockies organization, Nolan Arenado is entering his fifth season. The cool, calm and relaxed player just wants to play baseball.

He’s not trying to be flashy, Arenado just wants to keep it simple.

“I anticipate the ball coming to me. That’s all I really think about,” Arenado told MLB.com. “I really don’t think about diving, throwing from my knees or anything. I try to let that happen and let the instincts take over.”

That’s why Arenado, is the first third baseman with five Gold Gloves in as many major league seasons.

On the offensive side, Arenado has 130 or more RBI’s in the last three years and last season he hit .309, .959 OPS and a 7.2 WAR.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw

I’m not sure how it’s possible, but Clayton Kershaw‘s been in the league for 10 years and somehow seems to be getting better and better.

The 3x Cy Young Winner is coming off an NL Championship with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and posting an 2.31 ERA, a record of 18-4, 202 SO, and a WHIP of 0.95.

Kershaw is entering the 2017 season in a unique position. He’s coming off a World Series defeat and, after the end of the season, he will be entering free agency.

He along with Harper could set record-breaking deals this year that just might shock the MLB world.

I’m not sure how Kershaw can shock us more, but I’m guessing he will.

San Diego Padres: Wil Myers

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Entering into his fifth MLB season, this year is Wil Myers third with the San Diego Padres.

The 27-year-old All-Star had a good season in 2017 hitting .243, 30 HRs, 74 RBIs, and a .328 OBP.

But this year he’s hoping to be more consistent throughout the length of the 2018 season. In April 2017, Myers was slugging .593, but he had a lot of dips in his batting average.

This offseason Myer’s goal was to be able to mentally grind through the whole season. He did that by talking to a sports psychologist, the same one that helped him through his injuries in 2014 and 2015.

“The tools have always been there,” Myers told MLB.com. “It’s been the mental ability for me to stay consistent through an entire season that’s been one of my problems, and I felt like this year I really took strides in correcting that.”

With the add of Eric Hosmer to the roster, it might take some of the load of Myers this season which, in return could show a better Myers all season long.

San Francisco Giants: Andrew McCutchen

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Former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen‘s whole career has been with the Pirates. Now the San Francisco Giants hope his veteran playing will bring some experience and hopefully offense to their organization.

Last season McCutchen went .279, 28 HRs, 88 RBIs and a .363 OBP. The Giants are hoping McCutchen’s bat can be what it’s been in Pittsburgh (if not better) for San Fran.

So far, spring training has been good for McCutchen, going 5-for-13, .385. This is what San Francisco needs!

Last season the Giants were last in HRs (128, .380 SLG) and they were next-to-last in runs (639 and .309 OPB).

Although most players have a transition year starting on a new team, I imagine McCutchen might only have a few speed bumps in the road.

That’ll do it from the National League. Be sure to check out our list of 15 players to watch in the AL, too.

— Jenna

 



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