1. If the Vikings could land soon-to-be free agent linemen LT Kelvin Beachum and RT Riley Reiff, would that be enough to resurrect a dwindled Vikings O-line?
Kras: It would be a really good start to the rebuild, but I don’t think they should stop there. If the Vikings were to end up signing Beachum, is he really the answer? He was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars last week which, to me, is somewhat concerning considering most teams don’t usually part ways with their starting LT. Reiff, I believe, would be a nice fit for any team, not just the Purple. Reiff made the switch to RT last season with the Lions where he was pretty good starting in 14 games. Although I personally hope the Lions re-sign him, he does have LT experience prior to last season which may also be something that intrigues the Vikings.
Nate Leer: I agree with Kras that this would be just a start to rebuilding the O-line. Beachum looks like a stopgap option so they would need to draft a upside prospect at LT early in the draft. That said, getting an elite option at RT would allow them to use TJ Clemmings in a reserve T role or as part of the RG competition, making the rest of the O-line stronger. The Vikes would also be smart to add an interior O-line body in the mid rounds even if they add 3 Ts through free agency and early in the draft.
2. Who do you think will make up the 5-man rotation for the Twins when the season starts?
Kras: There are a lot of uncertainties with the Twins rotation, much like there is every year around this time and that pretty much carries well into the season. This year however, I feel like the rotation will have a better season as a whole. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the new leadership, the new (Hector Santiago) and rested arms (Phil Hughes), or it might just be that I don’t feel they can be that bad again as a group. Whatever it is, I feel like their pitching will improve this season and the 5 pitchers that I would like to see get the first shot, and I also believe they have the best chance at it, are Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson, and Jose Berrios. A few vets with some young and potential talent mixed in isn’t the worst thing to have but these guys have a tough uphill battle ahead of them this season.
JJ Benz: I would like to see the Twins start the season with Jose Berrios as their #5 starter. That way he would have a better chance to win games and build up his confidence. Ervin Santana has been pretty much the pitcher we thought we were getting when we signed him. I expect him to stay consistent. The 2, 3 and 4 spots will probably be filled by veterans Phil Hughes, Hector Santiago and Kyle Gibson along with Tyler Duffy getting some spot starts. Although Hughes is projected to be healthy, he did have a fracture to his femur, the largest bone in the human body, and may need more time to recover than expected. The teams does have some arms in the minors that probably aren’t ready including their #1 pick a few years ago, LHP Tyler Jay who is currently in AA.
3. Are we witnessing the emergence of a superstar in Timberwolves high flier Andrew Wiggins?
Kras: Wiggy has really been on fire as of late. Before the All-Star break he managed to put up 40 points in back-to-back games in which the team won 1 and lost 1. I believe Wiggins has taken a step forward in his development this season but I don’t think he has reached the superstar level yet. If Wiggins can come out of the All-Star break and continue to have success on O, as well as toughen up a bit on D, he will be something special. It will be interesting to watch the Wolves moving forward to see if they will run the O more through Wiggins than other players and just to see how the relationship between Coach Tom Thibodeau and Wiggins progresses.
Nate Leer: Wiggy is starting to fulfill his potential and, yes, he could be emerging as the NBA’s next superstar. It may be sacrilegious, but he reminds me a bit of Michael Jordan. Obviously he is far from being that level of a player and winner but there are a few similarities to their games and development. Both were late bloomers, guys who were drafted on physical talent without a well rounded game at the time. Both were long, skinny wings who developed a complete offensive game – ball handling, shooting, involving teammates, etc. Lastly, they are both devastating finishers at the rim. In Wiggy’s last game, he attempted more than once to throw down on Denver big man Nikola Jokic who appeared to be doing a lot of trash talking. On Wiggy’s 2nd attempt, he finished in one of the better facials you will see this year.
1. With baseball just around the corner, who do you think will be this year’s breakout player?
JJ Benz: To try and predict this year’s breakout player will be tough, I happen to think that he will be a Cuban defector and maybe not that young. Houston 1B/OF Yunieski Gurriel has the talent and might be in the perfect situation to flourish in his age 32 season. This title may be a close competition because of all the talented young guys getting a chance. OF Byron Buxton of the Twins could very easily be that guy if he lives up to his hype. Cubs C/OF Kyle Schwarber missed all of the 2016 season but showed in the playoffs that he can flat out rake. He, too, could be the breakout player if they can find a spot for him to play in the field.
Nate Leer: Every spring there are plenty of players who have the potential to turn into stars. Last year the two brightest stars to emerge were Dodgers SS Corey Seager and Nationals SS/2B/OF Trea Turner. Predicting who those guys will be this year means finding the situations where talent meets opportunity. That could make it very likely the at least one breakout player emerges for the White Sox as they look to be working towards the future. The most likely position player to make his mark for the Sox is IF Yoan Moncada. The Cuban has all the talent in the world and he will get a look at some point this year, likely after the expected deadline for using up a year of club control. The Sox also have elite arm talent in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez who could be held down until the same time frame.
2. If Kevin Love has any setbacks with his knee injury/surgery, can the Cavs be beaten in the Eastern Conference playoffs?
Kras: I think so. Assuming Love comes back fully healthy they will be tough to handle but if he has any setback or it takes him some time to get back into game shape they may have some troubles. LeBron James already has enough minute under his his belt this season without needing to see any at the PF position. Channing Frye is a nice piece to bring off the bench in place of Love but I don’t think Frye can get the team to a level that Love can. The addition of Derrick Williams will help reduce minutes elsewhere but he is far from an accomplished player. I think they will need Love by the time the Eastern Conference finals roll around. The Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors are the two teams that benefit most from the absence of Love as they are the teams that have the best chance to either catch them in the standings or beat them in the playoffs.
Nate Leer: Without a fully operable K Love, I do think the Cavs could be susceptible to a playoff upset. The Toronto Raptors or Boston Celtics look like the teams with the best chances to unseat the NBA champs. The Celtics are a very deep team but may lack enough stars to overcome even a weakened Cavs team. The Raptors recent trade for shot blocker extraordinaire Serge Ibaka helps them in many ways. He can help keep the Cavs wings away from the rim while being able to space the floor with his shooting on the other end. Even without Love, I would probably bet on the Cavs but the gap is closed by a lot!
3. With the huge trade over All-Star game weekend who is the bigger winner, the Pelicans for landing Demarcus Cousins or the Kings for the pieces they received (2017 1st & 2nd round draft picks, Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway)? Why?
Kras: I think hands down the Pelicans are the winner here. They got a top 5 big man out of the deal where as a the Kings got what now will likely be a mid to late 1st round pick, an unproven shooter in Buddy Hield and an often injured Tyreke Evans. The Kings have been dreadful throughout Cousins’ time there and this trade doesn’t figure to change that. As long as Cousins goes to New Orleans understanding that he isn’t the star, I think he and Anthony Davis could be special. Two PF,C type guys who can do it all will be fun to watch on the floor together. Hopefully the Pels have enough, and they should, to reach the playoffs in the West. Assuming they get in as the 8th seed, they would likely face the Warriors and it would be interesting to see how Golden State matches up against that size and strength.
Nate Leer: Clearly the Pelicans got the better of the deal but I don’t think it is as bad for the Kings as it has been made out to be. The Kings gained a couple picks in a deep draft and financial flexibility after the season. Instead of making the classic mistake of continuing to build around one superstar and not bottoming out to get multiple stars, the Kings seemed determine to lose as many games as possible this year. That makes even more sense because they would lose their own 1st round pick if it is not in the top 10, a hard pill to swallow for this draft. The word is that they also think highly of G Buddy Hield acquired in the trade. I am not as big of a fan but, if they like him so much, they got him. Gaining Hield, 1 or 2 picks in this year’s draft and more playing time for their other young players was probably the right move as opposed to giving Cousins over $200 million.