It's never too early in the offseason to think about Opening Day: The fresh-cut grass, the warm weather, the crack of the bat and all those other phrases that make you sit back, let out a contented sigh and feel good that everything is back where it ought to be.
We may not be there yet -- and hey, pitchers and catchers won't be reporting for a couple of months -- but it's time to look ahead to the 2018 season in anticipation of some milestones that just may happen.
Some milestones are "traditional," such as 3,000 hits, but some others ... well, we dove deep into the leaderboards of relatively obscure stats to find some real gems that just might transpire during a game this coming year.
300 homers for Giancarlo Stanton -- 33 away
Dingers. Giancarlo Stanton hits 'em, and he hits 'em far. When Opening Day 2018 rolls around, the new Yankees slugger will be just 33 home runs away from No. 300 in his career. That's pretty remarkable, given his age: Stanton is still just 28 years old.
Alex Rodriguez is the youngest player in history to hit 300 homers, as he was just 27 years, 249 days old when he hit No. 300 in 2003. Stanton's pace is closest to Andruw Jones, who became the fourth-youngest (and the youngest in the NL) to hit 300 when he did so at 28 years, 144 days old.
A few other hitters could hit their 300th homers next season, too: Mark Reynolds (281), Jay Bruce (277), Chris Davis (267) and Mike Napoli (267).
3,000 hits for Albert Pujols -- 32 away
The veteran slugger has already reached the 600 homer mountaintop, a feat he achieved in June with an authoritative grand slam at Angel Stadium:
Pujols will begin the 2018 season with 2,968 hits ... so this one seems like a certainty. He's also only 269 at-bats away from 10,000 in his career, which also seems like something he'll easily accomplish next summer.
200 HBPs for Chase Utley -- one away
For most players, getting drilled by a pitch isn't desirable. Yes, it counts as a free pass to first base, but it's probably not very fun ... unless you're Chase Utley:
Chase Utley on getting hit by pitches: "Do I like it? I mean, I don't dislike it."- Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) May 31, 2017
Coming off the bench in Game 6 of the World Series to help form a rally by nonchalantly taking a pitch off the ankle? Yeah, that's his game:
Assuming he inks a Major League deal with a club for next season, Utley will come into the year with 199 hit-by-pitches in his career.
How rare is it to be on the cusp of 200? Well, he's already eighth all-time in HBPs. He probably won't reach the top spot, considering Hughie Jennings was plunked a record 287 times, but still. It's relatively uncharted territory. Utley trails Dan McGann (who was plunked 230 times) on the all-time list, while among active players Rickie Weeks is next up with 134.
No pain, no gain, right Chase?
200 stolen bases for Mike Trout -- 35 away
When Mike Trout burst onto the scene with his unreal Rookie of the Year season in 2012, he was an unstoppable force on the basepaths, stealing an AL-best 49 bags. Since '12, he's stolen at least 30 bases in a season twice.
Remember, he's pretty good at it:
Considering 35 stolen bases would be the second-most prolific single season of Trout's career to date, he'll have an outside chance at reaching 200 next season.
1,000 walks for Joey Votto -- four away (and Jose Bautista -- 35 away)
The way Joey Votto plays baseball, this could easily happen by Game No. 2 of the 2018 campaign. The Reds' first baseman has led the NL in walks in five of his 11 seasons, including this past year after drawing 134. The man is patient. We're talking five-walks-in-a-single-game patient:
The same can be said for Jose Bautista, by the way, as he'll begin 2018 with 965 of his own, just 35 away from 1,000 himself.
100 triples and 10,000 at-bats for Ichiro -- four and 115 away, respectively
The ageless wonder, Ichiro Suzuki, is on the cusp of yet another milestone, and this one's representative of both his hitting skills and his fleet-footedness on the basepaths. Ichiro, 44, is a free agent, but he doesn't see why he can't play until he's 50. Assuming he ends up somewhere next season, he'll suit up with 96 career triples, needing only four to reach 100. Only one other active player has more than 100 (Jose Reyes with 128), for context.
He didn't record a triple this past season, but he had 11 combined over the two previous campaigns, so don't be surprised if he finds a way. And, with 9,885 at-bats to date in his MLB career, Ichiro's also on the verge of eclipsing 10,000 -- assuming he has a healthy 2018. If he does, he'll reach a plateau only one other active player (Adrian Beltre) has reached so far.
10 career pitching appearances for catcher Chris Gimenez -- one away
In 2017, Twins catcher Chris Gimenez took the mound six times. He's done so nine times in his career to date. With just one more mound appearance in 2018, then, he'll reach double-digits. Dude can throw:
Here's hoping "pitcher" will be added to Gimenez's baseball cards should he reach this milestone in the coming year.
200 wins and 2,500 strikeouts for Justin Verlander -- 12 and 84 away, respectively
Justin Verlander is on the top of the world these days. He just won his first World Series, married Kate Upton in Tuscany and made several high-profile television appearances. On the diamond, he was as dominant as ever in 2017 and has pitched himself to the verge of two significant personal landmarks in the upcoming year.
He'll begin his second season with the Astros 12 wins away from 200 and 84 strikeouts away from 2,500 for his career ... and both seem more than likely to happen, especially if he keeps busting out pitches like the one above.
250 wins for Bartolo Colon -- 10 away (and four to break the all-time Dominican pitcher record)
Speaking of ageless wonders, 44-year-old Bartolo Colon has history within his grasp next season as well. Also a free agent, Colon is 10 wins away from 250 for his career -- and three victories away from tying Juan Marichal for the most all-time wins by a pitcher from the Dominican Republic.
If he puts together another season of well-placed moving fastballs, both of those could definitely happen.
250 wins for CC Sabathia -- 13 away
In addition to Bartolo up above, one other veteran pitcher has a chance at reaching 250 wins in the next calendar year: CC Sabathia. The 37-year-old will enter 2018 with 237 career victories under his belt after going 14-5 for the Yankees last season, striking out 120 more hitters along the way. His slider did some dancin':
More movement like this and No. 250 should be well within reach.
2,000 hits for Joe Mauer -- 14 away
File this one under the "no way this one doesn't happen" category, since Joe Mauer is a hitting machine. In his 14 years with the Twins, Mauer's averaged 186 hits per 162-game season -- and, in 2017, he posted his highest WAR (3.4) since 2013.
So yeah, Mauer could very well take care of this milestone by the second week of the season.
100 homers and 600 runs scored for Jose Altuve -- 16 and 39 away
There are several players who could reach individual homer milestones next season, but Jose Altuve is already in rare company for the Astros thanks to his power stroke. Through his first seven seasons in Houston, Altuve has hit 84 dingers. Needing 16 to reach 100, that should be well within his capabilities in 2018: He hit 24 in each of the past two campaigns.
The reigning AL MVP is already second in Astros team history for homers by second basemen, trailing only Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. Should Altuve keep up this offensive pace for Houston in the future, he has a pretty good chance of winding up the most prolific power-hitting second baseman in franchise history. For comparison's sake, Biggio didn't hit No. 100 until his tenth season, in 1997.
Oh, and Altuve's also just 39 runs away from scoring 600 in his career, too.
Keep an eye out for some history next season!