These Black Knights will be lit in 2018.
Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman was carrying the torch for black pitching excellence before inflammation in his right shoulder left the start of his 2018 season in limbo. Stroman won 13 games and posted a 3.09 ERA across 201 innings last season, emerging as Toronto’s undisputed ace making 33 starts, finishing 8th in the AL Cy Young race and posting a 6.0 WAR.
Marcus Stroman tossed 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball in an exhibition start Monday night against the Cardinal and is slated to make his regular-season debut April 1 against the Yankees. That’s good news because Stroman is the No. 1 African-American pitcher in the game not named CC Sabathia or David Price and not knocking on the door of retirement.
Stroman’s had electric stuff ever since he entered the league. Remaining healthy, elevating to Cy Young levels, and raising his durability so that he can be that reliable ace for the Toronto Blue Jays is his mission this season.
The Long Island-born Stroman, who helped Team USA win its first WBC Championship in 2017, is entering his age-27 season.
Is this the year he joins the Black Aces by winning 20 games and becoming the first African-American Cy Young winner since Price in 2012 and CC in 2007?
The National League hasn’t had an African-American Cy Young winner since Dwight Gooden in 1985.
Andrew McCutchen, San Francisco Giants
The Pittsburgh Pirates disloyally dumped former NL MVP and franchise star Andrew McCutchen. For the first time in his career, one of the most popular and beloved players in the history of the franchise is playing for another National League squad in 2018.
During the offseason, The Black Knight from Fort Meade, Florida – who spent the first nine years of his career transforming Pittsburgh from MLB’s Saigon and the losingest franchise in pro sports into potent World Series title contenders – was traded to the San Francisco Giants for right-hander Kyle Crick, minor league outfielder Bryan Reynolds and $500,000 in international signing bonus allocation. Pittsburgh also pays $2.5 million in scratch to cover part of McCutchen’s $14.75 million salary.
Now he’s “West Coast Cutch.” He got a hit and helped San Fran win a 1-0 Opening Day pitchers duel with the Dodgers on Thursday. Many more where those came from.
It shouldn’t come as a shock that the Pirates traded the face of their franchise and the player that captivated the city with his community work, solid character, leadership, and grace. Ever since the Pirates missed their World Series window, which was from 2013-15, upper brass had been looking to unload salary, rid itself of high-priced aging players and start all over again.
McCutchen will be looking to prove he is far from washed and will get to face his former team several times this season.
Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels
One thing Justin has shown 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 2016 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 showed a deficiency in his game. The Tigers hoped for more consistency in 2017. The team stunk, but Upton progressed as a player. Upton played 125 games with Detroit before being traded in exchange for their No. 9 prospect, Grayson Long, and a player to be named later or cash.
J-Up bombed career-highs in homers (35) and RBIs (109) and slugged .540 in 2017 playing 125 games with Detroit and the final 27 with the LA Angels. He has added to what could be a lethal lineup with Mike Trout and the aging Albert Pujols in 2018.
George Springer, Houston Astros
Black baseball excellence was on full display during this World Series and when the smoke cleared and the Houston Astros secured its first franchise title by defeating the Dodgers 5-1 in Game 7 on Wednesday night, Black Knight George Springer had risen above the pack and embraced the moment to capture the Willie Mays MVP Award, rightly named after the greatest center fielder of all-time and an African-American baseball king.
Springer hit .379 (11-for-29) with five home runs and seven RBIs. His eight extra-base hits were the most ever in a World Series, and he is the first player to homer in four straight games within a single World Series, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Springers power surge ties an all-time record set by Reggie Jackson for the Yankees in 1977 and matched by Chase Utley for the Phillies in 2009.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox
Jackie Bradley Jr. is one of the three best defensive center fielders in baseball. He’s a human highlight film for the Boston Red Sox who regularly robs cats of homers with his sick leaping and timing ability and he does a hell of a spiderman impersonation as well. The 27-year-old took a step back offensively in 2017 dropping to just 17 homers and a .245 batting average after blasting 26 dingers and hitting .267 in 2016, but that can be attributed to being limited to 133 games due to injuries.
Bradley Jr. suffered a right knee sprain in April that put him in a brace through May, then he sprained his left thumb in August. Bradley Jr. isn’t one to make excuses, but expect a bounce-back season this year.
“Yall know I’m never gonna say anything about that. It’s just not who I am,” Bradley told NBC Sports Boston before accepting the Defensive Player of the Year award at the 79th annual Boston baseball writers awards dinner last month.
“But as a player, you just have to deal. You’re injured. But I felt at the time that I could still help the team out. So I was in a brace. I think once I got it off, it actually was feeling pretty good.”