2017 MLB season preview: SI's experts make their awards picks

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Thursday March 30th, 2017

Last season's MLB award winners offered an intriguing mix of the expected and the unexpected. In the American League, Mike Trout's brilliance was enough for voters to ignore the Angels' 74–88 record and win him his second MVP award in three seasons, and the previously unremarkable Rick Porcello edged out 2011 winner and former Tigers teammate Justin Verlander for the Cy Young. Detroit didn't go home entirely empty-handed, as righthander Michael Fulmer won the Rookie of the Year award, holding off a late surge from Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. In the National League, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2015 by taking home the MVP in '16; the Nationals' Max Scherzer made it a sweep of ex-Tigers to win the Cy Young Award; and Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager easily won top rookie honors.

What does 2016 have in store? Could Seager follow Bryant's path and go from ROY to MVP? Will Verlander, at age 34, overcome last year's snub? And is the AL MVP award now Trout's to lose every year? Read on to see the predictions made by SI's baseball experts: senior writers Tom Verducci and Ben Reiter, staff writers Albert Chen and Jack Dickey, contributing writer Jay Jaffe, senior editors Ted Keith and Emma Span and producer Jon Tayler.

American League MVP: Mike Trout vs. All

Tom Verducci

Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros

Now that he's had more than 1,000 plate appearances in the majors, and given that he's surrounded by the best offense in the American League, Correa should put up monster numbers and give himself a second piece of hardware to go with his AL Rookie of the Year award from 2015.

Ben Reiter

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

Bad news, opponents: He’s getting better—walking more, striking out less. Trout is still only 25, and now that voters have by and large realized that all arguments formerly used against him in this category are bogus, we can just pencil in his name here every spring until further notice.

Albert Chen

Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

It feels like he’s been a Baltimore fixture as long as Fort McHenry, but Machado is just 24. After setting career highs in home runs (37), runs (105), RBIs (96) and batting average (.294), Machado—a shortstop playing out of position, remember—finished in the top-five in AL MVP voting for the second straight year. His best is yet to come.

Jack Dickey

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

Here's one thing the guy has never done: win back-to-back MVPs. But doing so this year would give him an equal number of MVP and non-MVP full seasons in his six-year career. Not bad.

Jay Jaffe

Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox

Odds are that Trout will be more valuable according to Wins Above Replacement. Betts, however, was last year's runner-up to Trout in this category after hitting .318/.363/.534 with 31 home runs, 113 RBIs, 26 stolen bases and Gold Glove-winning defense. He has become an elite player himself, and with the benefit of having the stronger team around him than Trout's Angels, expect him to break through at age 24 to win this award.

Ted Keith

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

Trout is not competing against Betts and Machado anymore; he's being measured against stiffer competition, like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. There is no question that he is and will be baseball's best player in 2017. The only question is whether voters will get tired of voting for him. They might one day, but it won't happen this year.

Emma Span

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

He’s been either first or second in MVP voting each of the last five years (his first five full seasons in the majors). Players like Betts, Machado and Josh Donaldson, who took this honor in between Trout's wins in 2014 and '16, could give him a run for his money—particularly since they’re more likely than Trout to be on winning teams this season. For now, though, everyone besides the Angels' star is a longshot.

Jon Tayler

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

Trout has finally defeated the narrative: He won last year’s MVP for a brilliant season (he led all AL hitters in WAR as well as the majors in on-base percentage and OPS+) that came despite toiling for a team that finished 15 games out of a playoff spot and despite the presence of a compelling alternative in Betts. If voters have at last learned to look beyond the things Trout can’t control (like the performance of his teammates) and instead are focused solely on what he does, then he will win this award every single year he’s healthy—as he should.

American League Cy Young Award: Sale leads wide-open field

Tom Verducci

Chris Sale, LHP, Boston Red Sox

In five years as a starting pitcher for the White Sox, Sale never finished lower than sixth in the AL Cy Young voting. With better defense behind him and increased run support in his first year in Boston, he should have his best season yet and finally finish on top.

Ben Reiter

​Danny Duffy, LHP, Kansas City Royals

The late-blooming 28-year-old southpaw began last year in the bullpen but had a 15-start mid-summer stretch in which he went 10–1 with a 2.38 ERA, a sub-1.00 WHIP and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly five to one. He’ll still have a fastball that sits at 95 mph, but now he’ll benefit from a full year in the rotation and even more comfort with his changeup.

Albert Chen

Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas Rangers

The return of Darvish—and all seven of his pitches—reminded us that the AL’s most breathtaking pitcher resides in Texas. There are always the lingering injury concerns for a pitcher who missed all of 2015 and most of the first half of last season, but the most telling number for Darvish, who piled up 182 strikeouts in 144 innings, was his 93.3 mph average on his fastball, his best yet in the majors.

Jack Dickey

Corey Kluber, RHP, Indians

Kluber threw 215 regular-season innings last year and another 34 1/3 in the postseason and didn’t run out of gas until his third start of the World Series. He led the league in adjusted ERA+ and struck out more than a batter per inning. He’s not slowing down.

Jay Jaffe

​Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers

A new grip on his slider and a slight return of his velocity helped him put together his best season since 2012 last year, and he very nearly won his second Cy Young, falling five points shy of Porcello (much to the chagrin of his fiancee). This time around, he'll get it.

Ted Keith

Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees

As quietly as one can while pitching in the country's biggest market for its most popular team, Tanaka has turned himself into an award-worthy threat. In 2016, he finished seventh in the voting following a year in which he ranked in the league's top 10 in almost every category. Most importantly, he made 31 starts and finished one out shy of 200 innings pitched, both career highs, and at age 28 and with three years in the bigs under his belt, he should be primed for his long-awaited dominant season.

Emma Span

Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

Like Tanaka, Sanchez had an excellent 2016 season that went mostly unnoticed, as his his 3.00 ERA led the AL. That built on a very good but injury-abbreviated 2015. While he still doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, he did raise his rate last year (while lowering his walk rate), and his ground-ball rate was among the AL’s top five.

Jon Tayler

Chris Sale, LHP, Boston Red Sox

Freed from the constraints of a mediocre White Sox team that more or less wasted the last five years of his career, Sale will now get to pitch in exactly the kind of high-intensity atmosphere he craves, and do so for a World Series contender. Boston will be counting heavily on him to be the ace it paid for when it gave up two top prospects (plus two more minor leaguers) to get him during the off-season, and David Price’s elbow injury doubles that pressure for Sale to be a lockdown No. 1. He should be able to meet that lofty challenge.

National League MVP: Seager poised to mimic—and dethrone—Bryant

Tom Verducci

Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

In the half-century since shortstops ended their dominance of the NL MVP award—the Cubs' Ernie Banks, the Pirates' Dick Groat and the Dodgers' Maury Wills combined to win it four times in five years from 1958 to '62—only two players at that position have been so honored: Barry Larkin in '95 and Jimmy Rollins in 2007. Seager has all the tools to join that club if he can build off last year's .308/.365/.512 season that earned him the Rookie of the Year award.

Ben Reiter

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

Nobody still seems to contend that Votto should walk less and swing more, not after a second half of 2016 in which he batted .408 with 15 homers, 55 RBIs and a 1.158 OPS. His (bad) team should also not hinder his MVP candidacy the way it might have in the past; value is value.

Albert Chen

Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

We’ve been spoiled by so many smashing debuts in recent seasons that maybe it’s no surprise that not enough people appreciated just how remarkable Seager’s rookie season was: At 22, his first full season, he finished third in the MVP voting, with a bat that was as good as advertised and defense that exceeded expectations. We’re truly in a golden age of shortstops, and Seager is the best at his position.

Jack Dickey

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies

It’s been 20 years since a Blake Street Bomber won an MVP, but Arenado brings a blend of counting-stat dominance, premium-defensive-position wizardry and iron-man endurance that should make voters swoon.

Jay Jaffe

Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

Last year's No. 1 prospect was everything he was supposed to be, not only winning Rookie of the Year honors but also giving chase in the MVP race. He's already the centerpiece of the Dodgers, and there's no reason that he can't keep getting better.

Ted Keith

Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs

Bryant wins an award every season, be it college player of the year (2013), minor league player of the year ('14), NL Rookie of the Year ('15) or MVP ('16). There's little reason to think that a man who should hit 40 home runs, top 100 RBIs and finish with a .300 batting average for the first time while playing a strong third base and moonlighting in the outfield for up to 40% of the season on the majors' best team won't be honored yet again.

Emma Span

Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals

Harper scuffled through last year while dealing with nagging injuries (though it’s worth noting that, while it was a disappointing performance by his standards, he was still well above league-average at the plate with a 116 OPS+). Now by all appearances healthy—and somehow still only 24—he'll have every opportunity to show that his jaw-dropping 2015 MVP season was the more representative one.

Jon Tayler

Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

Following in the footsteps of Bryant, Seager looks like a solid bet to build on a unanimous Rookie of the Year campaign with an even bigger award the next season. Seager has all the tools to become a superstar: He’s a plus hitter with tons of power playing great defense at a premium position. Bryant, Arenado and Harper should all be contenders, but this is the year Seager announces himself as one the game’s elite.

National League Cy Young Award: It looks like Syndergaard vs. Kershaw

Tom Verducci

​Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants

Already a postseason legend multiple times over, one of the game's most reliable elite pitchers is just now entering his prime at age 27. He's coming off a career-best 2.74 ERA and poised to finally win this award after finishing in the top 10 four straight times.

Ben Reiter

​Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Is Trout the Kershaw of hitters, or is Kershaw the Trout of pitchers? Normally you’d say that Kershaw is the prohibitive favorite if he stays healthy, but the three-time Cy Young recipient spent more than one-third of last season on the disabled list with a bad back and still got a few first-place Cy votes. He’s just the prohibitive favorite, full stop.

Albert Chen

Johnny Cueto, RHP, San Francisco Giants

In a league loaded with fire-breathing aces, it’s easy to overlook the dreadlocked one, who was quietly excellent in his first season as a Giant. With four straight seasons of 200-plus innings, Cueto is reliable as they come, but he is also one of the best pitchers on the planet and he's now in that pitcher friendly park. This is the year Cueto finally gets his due.

Jack Dickey

Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets

It’d be a snoozer to pick Trout AND Kershaw (although Kershaw has gone two seasons since he last won the Cy). Syndergaard cruised through his first full season last year, striking out nearly 11 batters per nine while keeping his walks down and the ball in the park. But if your bookie will give you +2000 odds on Arizona's Robbie Ray...

Jay Jaffe

​Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants

Just as Kershaw still has question marks about his ability to rise to the occasion in the postseason, Bumgarner has yet to show he can be the NL's best pitcher during the regular season. Coming off career bests in ERA and strikeouts (251), it seems possible that he's heading in that direction.

Ted Keith

Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets

A moment's pause here for Jose Fernandez, whose tragic and senseless death in a boating accident last September robbed baseball of one of its best pitchers and top ambassadors and who would have been a popular pick for this honor coming off a tremendous season in 2016. The winner will come from the NL East, however, and it will be Syndergaard, whose fastball is as fearsome as his hair is magnificent. Expect his impressive strikeout totals (218 last year) and low ERA (2.60) to allow him to join Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and R.A. Dickey as the only Mets pitchers to win this award.

Emma Span

Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets

The usual pick here, for good reason, is Kershaw, but the Dodgers’ ace did miss more than two months last season with a back injury. Thor, meanwhile, threw 183 2/3 innings in 30 starts, regularly reached triple digits with his fastball even at the end of his outings, and (like AL candidate Aaron Sanchez, whom the Jays picked a few slots ahead of him in the first round of the 2010 draft) is still only 24.

Jon Tayler

Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Like Trout, the calculus here is simple: If Kershaw is healthy, then this award is his to lose.

American League Rookie of the Year award: Benintendi seems unbeatable

Tom Verducci

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox

As the No. 1 prospect in baseball and someone who hit .295 in a 34-game exposure to the majors last year, he's an obvious pick. His swing and approach are special, though, and he'll be the first Red Sox player to win the award since Dustin Pedroia in 2007.

Ben Reiter

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox

​Benintendi’s bad luck late last summer—he sprained his left knee on the base paths in August—means that he is still eligible for this award, and with a full season as Boston's No. 2 hitter ahead of him, it will be the other would-be contenders who will be out of luck this season.

Albert Chen

Yoan Moncada, IF, Chicago White Sox

Moncada will start the season by devouring Triple A pitching (and, apparently, Twinkies), but once he's up for the rebuilding White Sox, the world will quickly see why the comparisons to Robinson Cao are not unfair.

Jack Dickey

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox

He’s hit everywhere he’s been, including a .312 average in two minor league seasons and a 117 OPS+ in his stint last season with the big club. This season should be no exception.

Jay Jaffe

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox

​Like Seager last year, the game's consensus No. 1 prospect not only has a starting job awaiting him, but he's also already acquitted himself well at the major league level for a contending team. The latest of Boston's version of the Killer B's should have no trouble fitting in alongside Jackie Bradley Jr., Betts and Xander Bogaerts.

Ted Keith

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox

It will be a bigger story if he doesn't win the award than if he does.

Emma Span

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox

Benintendi only got 105 big-league at-bats last season, but he looked so comfortable in the majors, where he hit .295/.359/.476, that he hardly even feels like a rookie anymore. The consensus No. 1 prospect in the game for good reason, he seems poised to expand on that breakout in 2017.

Jon Tayler

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox

Benintendi offers a little bit of everything: offense, defense and speed on the bases. That combination should be enough to make him Boston’s first Rookie of the Year since Dustin Pedroia in 2007.

National League Rookie of the Year award: Swanson at head of the class

Tom Verducci

​Hunter Renfroe, OF, San Diego Padres

The No. 13 pick in the 2013 draft has been anything but unlucky in his brief career. He hit 77 home runs in the minor leagues and another four in an 11-game cameo at the end of last season. He's an aggressive hitter with legitimate power.

Ben Reiter

​Robert Gsellman, RHP, New York Mets

Thanks to the Mets’ collection of young aces, you never heard about Gsellman when he was in the minors. But he went 4–2 with a 2.42 ERA in seven gutsy starts for New York last year, and his fastball velocity was for real—around 94 mph, on average. He could sneak up on frontrunners like Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson and Pirates pitcher Tyler Glasnow.

Albert Chen

Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

I'm buying the Pirates as a playoff team because of the young pitchers: Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Glasnow, who has the best pure stuff on the staff, as his jaw-dropping minor league strikeout numbers (645 in exactly 500 innings) indicate. There will be bumps in the road, but by September, just as the Pirates are fending off the Mets, Cardinals and Rockies for that second wild card, Glasnow will be The Man in Pittsburgh's rotation.

Jack Dickey

Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves

Swanson does everything well, and he’ll be the biggest draw to the Atlanta rebuild on nights when Julio Teheran and Bartolo Colon aren’t pitching.

Jay Jaffe

​Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves

While the still-rebuilding Braves may be in for some rough days in their new ballpark, Swanson already looks the part of a franchise centerpiece, and his play will help to make the team worth watching this year.

Ted Keith

Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves

You could do worse when planning a promotional campaign to reboot your franchise then to center it around a native son. And you could do worse to rebuild that franchise on the field than to do it around a former No. 1 overall pick. In Swanson, the Braves get to do both. Swanson hit .302 in a lengthy, 38-game first pass through the majors last year, which should help him mature quickly enough in 2017 to win this award handily.

Emma Span

Hunter Renfroe, OF, San Diego Padres

The Padres’ rightfielder will get plenty of time to find his legs in the majors—the one upside to being on a team that isn’t going anywhere this season. He destroyed Triple A pitching last year (.306/.336/.557) and did the same in a brief 11-game stint in the majors (.371/.389/.800), and his defense should provide value even if he struggles at the plate.

Jon Tayler

Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves

Like Benintendi, Swanson fell just short of the rookie cutoff last year, collecting 129 at-bats. He displayed plenty of franchise-changing talent in his brief debut, flashing a solid glove at short and a potent bat. The NL rookie crop is not a strong one—the loss of Cardinals starter Alex Reyes to Tommy John surgery robbed the field of its leading contender—but Swanson is good enough to step up and take the award as the new face of the Braves.

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