By CONOR OLIVER
The first pitches of MLB Spring Training 2017 were thrown this past week, signaling the return of perennial all-star contenders such as Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, and Corey Kluber. With the season barely under way, early predictions for who the best players will be is difficult. But hey, it is fun to make wild predictions, so here it goes.
I’m going to make two bold claims, starting with the National League MVP. Bryce Harper will not win the NL MVP, and Kris Bryant will fall short as well. Bryant is coming off last year’s MVP and an incredible season, culminating in a World Series victory. Keeping up with last years pace would be remarkable — and unlikely. Bryce Harper had incredible numbers last year, but it was not enough for him to beat out the success of the Chicago Cubs, led by Kris Bryant. The Cubs may leave the door open as you can expect some World Series rust. To be honest, I’m not sure who to pick instead. I just have a feeling Bryant and Harper will fall short.
Finally, looking at the American League, I think Jose Altuve of the Astros has a great chance of beating out perennial favorite Mike Trout. He plays for a much better team, which has in the past been a slight knock against Trout when considering his MVP candidacy. While there are other contenders, if Altuve can slightly improve on last year’s season and the Astros play well, he could come out as an early favorite for MVP.
By ROB NIGHTINGALE
After being arguably the most tortured fan base in all of sports, Chicago Cubs fans deserved to celebrate the 2016 World Series trophy for longer than five months. However, MLB Opening Day is only weeks away and the race for the crown will start all over. Likewise, the National League and American League MVP trophies will once again be up for grabs. In the NL, expect Chicago’s Kris Bryant to capture the trophy again, having won it decisively last season. If he wins the award this year, Bryant will become the first back-to-back NL MVP winner since Albert Pujols in ‘08-’09. Since entering the league as a rookie two years ago, Bryant’s batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage have all increased from season to season.
I guarantee that this trend will continue, resulting in a historic year for Bryant with at least 125 RBI and over 40 HR.
Unlike the NL MVP Race, the AL MVP Race will be much closer with three big names battling it out for all 162 games. LA’s Mike Trout, Boston’s Mookie Betts, and Baltimore’s Manny Machado will be the players to watch in the American League. One could make the argument that Mike Trout has deserved the AL MVP each of the last 5 seasons and that his kind of production and consistency is unlikely to end. Machado often wavers from transcendent talent to average third baseman, but I expect him to finally put all of the pieces together this season.Yet, Mookie Betts will be the AL MVP, helping fill the David Ortiz void by putting up massive numbers and winning another Gold Glove in right field.
By THEO ASHER
Assistant National Sports Editor
While the easy choice for the American League would be Mike Trout, I think that Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox will finally break through and capture the AL MVP Award in 2017. The only thing that stopped Betts from winning the honor in 2016 was Trout’s league-leading Wins After Replacement (WAR). Betts’ WAR was 1.00 lower than Trout’s (10.55 vs. 9.55), a slim margin that has been overlooked in past MVP races. Betts had more homers (31 vs. 29), RBIs (113 vs. 100), and over 50 more total bases than Trout (359). Another critical factor which will help Betts over Trout is Betts’ exceptional fielding ability. Trout is a great fielder, but Betts is on a whole other level. His defensive WAR of 2.83 (2nd in the AL) dwarfed Trout’s 0.96 (34th in the AL), and Betts captured the Wilson Overall Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2016, given to MLB’s best fielder.
The National League MVP award is difficult to forecast. There are several stars who could win it. Among them are Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Corey Seager and Giancarlo Stanton, but this is the year that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will realize how spectacular Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies is. Even though he plays for a mediocre team, the man is arguably the best hitter and fielder in the NL. For the past two seasons, he has led the league in home runs, RBIs, and total bases. In both of those seasons, he also collected an NL Gold Glove Award. Arenado is a better fielder than “Bryzzo” and has less support from his pitching staff, so his play has a greater impact on games. If the Colorado Rockies have a winning season and contend for the playoffs, Arenado will be the man responsible.