The 2017 MLB season is in full swing. There are many different storylines and players of interest, including a couple of soul-patrolling veterans who are at a career crossroads, the return of an injured Black Knight and a career-defining year for another.
OF Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians
If Michael Brantley didn’t get hurt last season, Cleveland probably wins the World Series. While recovering, Brantley set no goals on his date of return, but stayed positive. There were reports that he wouldn’t make opening day.
On Monday night, however, Brantley started in left field for the Indians against Texas at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
Brantley played just 11 games last season because of a sore right shoulder that needed surgery in August. In 2014 and 2015, he averaged 17.5 homers and 90.5 RBIs. His stock was on the rise. Last season, he and Cleveland felt the sting of his absence in the playoffs. Now that he’s healthy, Cleveland has even stronger World Series aspirations and let’s hope this Black Knight can recapture his All-Star swag.
2B Brandon Phillips, Atlanta Braves
As a player with 10-and-5 rights, Phillips, one of two African-American second baseman of note along with Dee Gordon, nixed trades to Atlanta and Washington prior to last season. But this offseason, the 35-year-old second baseman accepted a trade to the Braves.
After toiling in Cleveland for the first four years of his career, BP arrived in Cincy in 2006 and for the next 11 years made three All-star games and won four Gold Glove awards as one of the premier swag masters in Major League Baseball.
It’s not like his offensive skills are deteriorating. He hit .291 with 11 homers, 34 doubles and stole 14 bases with 160 hits in 141 games in 2016. Dat Dude can still whip it and Atlanta knows it. Plus, Phillips is from Stone Mountain, Georgia, so his MLB journey is 360 and eventually retiring as an Atlanta Brave would only be right.
OF Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs
After signing an eight-year, $184 million contract last offseason, Heyward ended up having the worst year of his career. He re-tooled his swing in the offseason and still struggled, hitting below .200 in Spring Training.
J-Hey came to the Cubs to solidify the outfield with a veteran presence. His hitting skills have been diminishing and this is a huge year for Heyward, who is approaching a crossroads in his career. It seems that he will never develop into the 30-homer. 30-steal, .300 average five-tool phenom that Hank Aaron predicted when he was a young blue-chipper playing for his hometown Atlanta Braves from 2010-2014.
He had a great year with St. Louis in 2015 and seemed on the upswing. One World Series ring with the Cubs later and he is on the verge of becoming a platoon player and career journeyman.
OF Justin Upton, Detroit Tigers
One thing Justin has showed us throughout his career is that he is as streaky as a campus full of drunk, naked college kids, but once he gets rolling he’s a dangerous bat. It took the second half of the season for him to live up to his six-year, $132.75 million deal he signed after the 2015 season. Upton finished with a career-high 31 homers, but his 179 strikeouts still shows a deficiency in his game. The Tigers can only hope for a more consistent season from him this year. It's scary projecting the numbers he'd produce if he could have one consistently solid season.
All of these players affect the culture of the game and are entering pivotal seasons in their careers for one reason or another.