Taking a Hack at the 2021 MLB Predictions

San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. flipping his bat following a home run (AP Photo/Gregory Bull).

It is that time of the year.

No, I am not talking about the NBA season and how Joel Embiid is making an MVP case for himself. Nor am I talking about how Kim Kardashian is getting a divorce from Kanye West. Nor the trade rumors surrounding NFL superstar Deshaun Watson. Nor the NHL.

No! I’m talking baseball.

Alright, I understand that I am making some pretty big assumptions here. So, if you are one of the 35 people who still watch baseball today, congratulations, this article is for you! Baseball is returning as Spring Training is officially underway, with players starting to trickle into Arizona and Florida. As the offseason comes to an end, it is time to analyze the current state of all 30 MLB teams and develop The Acronym’s first-ever MLB power rankings.

This ranking will divide teams into different tiers based on their overall abilities and will offer information regarding the general condition, major offseason moves, and players to watch for each team. Rankings will take into account division rivals, future projections, and big-picture trends in addition to the individual pitchers and hitters that comprise teams. Only major additions and subtractions will be accounted for in the offseason section, as minor league depth is unlikely going to create huge impacts for the MLB team as a whole. Returning free-agents will also not be highlighted as they represent no major change from the previous year’s roster. So, without further ado, here they are:

 

 

Tier 1: The Big Five

The Los Angeles Dodgers after winning the 2020 World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays (Getty/Sean M. Haffey).

This tier is made up of the five clear best teams of all baseball. Each team has a relatively straightforward path to the postseason and, eventually, the World Series.

 

1) Los Angeles Dodgers

What more can I say about the 2020 World Series? Entering the 2021 season as favorites even before their productive offseason, the Dodgers boast an extremely deep lineup with even stronger pitching depth in terms of both young, developing players and seasoned veterans. To top it all off, the Dodgers added big-name, 2020 Cy Young Winner free agent pitcher Trevor Bauer on a record-breaking, three-year $102 million deal while increasing the general depth of the team through some small transactions. The Dodgers are the clear, indisputable favorites to win it all once more.

Offseason additions: SP Trevor Bauer, RP Corey Knebel, RP Tommy Kahnle, 3B Sheldon Neuse, RP Brandon Morrow

Offseason subtractions: OF Joc Pederson, 2B Kike Hernandez, SP Alex Wood, RP Pedro Baez, RP Adam Kolarek, RP Dylan Floro, RP Jake McGee

Players to watch:

1) A young starting pitcher who burst onto the baseball scene, Dustin May has an electric arsenal featuring a 100mph power sinker and three other pitches. After a strong 2020 season, May looks to continue his success as one of the Dodgers’ many premier pitchers.

2) His lackluster showing in 2020 is not the typical, 2019 MVP Cody Bellinger that most fans expected. Bellinger’s peripherals, however, tell a different story of a valuable player who was unluckier than usual. He still possesses all the tools to rebound in a strong fashion for 2021 and should continue to be an offensive machine for the team moving forwards.

3) Not the actor, and also not the Atlanta Braves pitcher. It’s the young catcher Will Smith, who had himself a year with strong offensive production in 2020. While he faces upcoming competition in the form of prospect Keibert Ruiz and did eventually falter in the World Series, Smith should be an exciting player to follow in 2021.

4) The biggest free agent of the 2020 offseason landed himself the biggest contract in one of the biggest markets. Trevor Bauer brings a data-driven, analytical approach and a Cy Young-winning season to a stacked rotation, making the Dodgers even more of a juggernaut. Bauer will continue to thrive as an ace unless if problematic off-the-field issues catch up to him.

 

2) San Diego Padres

Despite still not reaching the Dodgers’ level on paper, the Padres had the definitive best offseason, crafting the best pitching rotation of MLB while bolstering the young offensive core. Acquiring elite pitchers such as Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, increasing depth with Victor Caratini, developing prospects such as MacKenzie Gore and Luis Campusano, and signing young superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year deal guarantees a bright 2021 for the team in their pursuit of a World Series title.

Offseason additions: SP Yu Darvish, SP Blake Snell, SP Joe Musgrove, C Victor Caratini, RP Keone Kela, RP Mark Melancon, RP Nick Burdi, SS Ha-Seong Kim

Offseason subtractions: RP Kirby Yates, C Francisco Mejia, SP Luis Patino, SP Joey Lucchesi, RP Trevor Rosenthal, C Jason Castro, 1B Mitch Moreland, SP Garrett Richards, RP Luis Perdomo

Players to watch:

1) Widely regarded as baseball’s poster child, Fernando Tatis Jr. has established himself as a bonafide wunderkind at age 21. His loud, aggressive playing style is backed up by superstar-level statistics across every single category of the game. There is no questioning that Tatis is baseball’s most exciting player and will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

2) One of the more underrated signings in a busy offseason for the Padres, Ha-Seong Kim provides elite defense and a solid hit tool based on his prior experience in the Korea Baseball Organization. Whether those hitting abilities translate to MLB-level pitching remains to be seen, but Kim should serve as at least a solid utility infielder if not a regular starter.

3) While he was old for a rookie, Jake Cronenworth did not fail to impress the baseball world with his offensive contributions and defensive versatility, finishing as a runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting. While Cronenworth will most likely regress compared to last year, he should still be a major factor in the success of the Padres’ infield.

4) After a strong rebound season in 2019, Yu Darvish reminded the world what he was capable of by showing off his 11-pitch repertoire and finishing second in NL Cy Young voting. Darvish has since come over in a blockbuster trade with the Cubs and projects to be the ace of San Diego’s awe-inspiring rotation.

 

3) Atlanta Braves

The core of the Atlanta Braves remained largely the same, but that alone would be more than enough to carry the team to the postseason: as Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Ian Anderson are blossoming into elite weapons, the offensive core continues to chug along under the leadership of players such as Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. While there are a few question marks with the bottom half of the rotation, the Braves are in a good position to defend their division pennant.

Offseason additions: SP Charlie Morton, SP Drew Smyly, RP Victor Arano, 2B Jason Kipnis, 3B Ehire Adrianza, 3B Jake Lamb, RP Carl Edwards Jr.

Offseason subtractions: SP Cole Hamels, RF Nick Markakis, LF Adam Duvall, C Tyler Flowers, RP Shane Greene, RP Mark Melancon, 2B Charlie Culberson, 2B Adeiny Hechavarria, RP Darren O’Day, RP Tommy Milone

Players to watch:

1) After turning in one of the best combined regular season and postseason performances for a rookie in recent memory, Ian Anderson is the next young pitching star out of many for the Braves. Anderson needs to continue his current trend and confidence in order to serve as an anchor for the fluctuating Braves’ rotation.

2) Following years of lackluster batting numbers, Dansby Swanson finally put it all together in 2020, finally reaching his projected ceiling as many started to lose confidence in him. The shortstop demonstrated a well-rounded slash line with a solid batting average. Swanson needs to prove that he is not a one-hit-wonder and that he has finally caught lightning in a bottle.

3) Placing fifth in the 2020 NL Cy Young award for the best pitcher, Max Fried headlines an exciting group of breakouts that propelled the Braves to the postseason last year. Fried’s ability to limit solid, hard contact on his pitches should carry him to yet another productive season in 2021 as a leader for the rotation.

4) Is there anything that the 2020 NL MVP, Freddie Freeman, couldn’t do? A consistently elite bat, solid defense, and ample amounts of experience, Freeman represents the whole package and remains the leader of a strong Braves batting lineup as a potential Hall of Famer. Freeman will be key in maintaining the team’s cohesion and production throughout the entire season.

 

4) New York Mets

The New York Mets have completely rehauled their front office under the leadership of new team owner Steve Cohen, while also making significant investments in acquiring elite players to improve the team. Now, the Mets are seeking to right the ship with additions such as superstar Francisco Lindor and other solid pieces following a disappointing 2020 season. Who knows, maybe the Mets aren’t going to be complete fools this season.

Offseason additions: SS Francisco Lindor, SP Carlos Carrasco, C James McCann, SP Joey Lucchesi, SS Jonathan Villar, SP Sean-Reid Foley, SP Jordan Yamamoto, CF Kevin Pillar, CF Albert Almora Jr., CF Mallex Smith, SS Jose Peraza, SP Taijuan Walker, SP Mike Montgomery, RP Trevor Hildenberger, RP Trevor May, RP Aaron Loup

Offseason subtractions: C Wilson Ramos, SS Amed Rosario, SP Steven Matz, SS Andres Gimenez, C Robinson Chirinos, 3B Todd Frazier, LF Yoenis Cespedes, CF Jake Marisnick, SP Rick Porcello, SP Michael Wacha, 2B Jed Lowrie, RP Justin Wilson, RP Jared Hughes, RP Paul Sewald, OF Tim Tebow (you might know him as the Heisman Trophy winner!)

Players to watch:

1) Following a three-year stretch of mediocre play, Dominic Smith broke out in dramatic fashion in the 2020 season and was the team’s best hitter across the season by posting up elite numbers in batting average and slugging. While his defense will continue to be a problem, Smith should still provide immense value just from his hitting abilities.

2) The most noteworthy trade of the entire offseason has to be the acquisition of superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor, who has been one of the best shortstops in all of baseball over the past six years. His presence injects a whole new level of dynamism into the team as a whole and will serve as a cornerstone to the Mets’ success with both his bat and his glove.

3) After posting up successful seasons and then hitting a bump in the road in 2019, Noah Syndergaard opted out of the 2020 season to receive a UCL reconstruction surgery. Syndergaard should be able to return midway through the season and can serve as another elite weapon for the Mets’ rotation.

4) A successful rookie season usually guarantees a spot on the team, yet pitcher David Peterson faces stiff competition for a spot in the rotation. As he continues to battle the likes of Joey Lucchesi for a rotation spot, Peterson should be able to continue his current trajectory as long as he improves his control.

 

5) New York Yankees

The Bronx Bombers just never seem to go away. In addition to retaining much of its offensive core, the Yankees strengthened its pitching rotation this offseason with a series of trades and free-agent signings, adding further depth to the weakest portion of the team. While the lineup will continue to produce, some questions continue to loom over various hitters looking to rebound, the health of stars such as Aaron Judge, and the boom-or-bust nature of the pitching staff.

Offseason additions: SP Jameson Taillon, SP Corey Kluber, C Robinson Chirinos, RF Jay Bruce, 2B Derek Dietrich, SP Asher Wojciechowski, RP Justin Wilson, RP Darren O’Day

Offseason subtractions: SP Masahiro Tanaka, SP James Paxton, SP JA Happ, RP Adam Ottavino, RP Tommy Kahnle, RP Jonathan Holder

Players to watch:

1) In just two years, Gary Sanchez went from prince to pauper amongst baseball catchers. His inability to hit the ball in 2020, coupled with his well-documented defensive struggles, made him one of the worst players in the league. Sanchez needs to prove his worth by turning a performance similar to his 2019 production level if he wants a spot in the lineup.

2) Despite a below-average performance to mark his debut season, Deivi Garcia is still only 21 years old and remains the best pitching prospect the Yankees have come across over the past few seasons. Garcia displayed impressive control during his Major League stint, a skill that would push him towards success combined with his effective pitches.

3) Acquired following a fire sale by the Pirates, Jameson Taillon flashed ace-level stats in 2018 yet was sidelined by an injury from 2019 to 2020. If he is able to fully recover and return to his usual form, Taillon can provide a solid presence in an otherwise-shaky rotation and propel the Yankees to continued success.

4) Similar to Taillon, Corey Kluber struggled with injuries over the past two seasons but has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball across the better half of the 2010s. The two-time Cy Young award winner needs to combat health issues and aging to justify the excitement in the Bronx around his veteran presence.

 

 

Tier 2: All-Stars

Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson flips his bat following a home run (Getty/Ron Vesely).

These teams are the All-Stars to the previous MVP teams, going off of a baseball analogy. While the following five teams are a step below the “Big Five”, they are still highly competitive and could very well gear up for a deep postseason run.

 

6) Chicago White Sox

The years of rebuilding did not go to waste. The Chicago White Sox, over the past few seasons, have stocked up with talented young players such as Eloy Jimenez and Tim Anderson alongside seasoned veterans to position themselves for a serious challenge for the World Series title this year. Following yet another successful offseason by further bolstering the pitching staff with free-agent signings, the White Sox are going to be a dominant force in the AL Central for years to come.

Offseason additions: SP Lance Lynn, RP Liam Hendriks, OF Yoelqui Cespedes, RF Adam Eaton, C Jonathan Lucroy, SS Tim Beckham

Offseason subtractions: C James McCann, DH Edwin Encarnacion, SP Dane Dunning, RP Alex Colome, RF Nomar Mazara, SP Gio Gonzalez, CF Jarrod Dyson, SP Ross Detwiler

Players to watch:

1) A torrid stretch at the beginning of the 2020 season was a glimpse into the superstar ceiling of Luis Robert, as he displayed his elite defense, speed, and potentially hitting as well. While he did struggle in the second half of the season, Robert should be able to make necessary adjustments to decrease his strikeout rate and improve his offense.

2) After finally capturing the AL MVP title last year, Jose Abreu looks to continue his career as the dominant yet heavily underrated leader of the White Sox. Abreu should continue to rake as a hitter and improve defensively as part of the core of the team, which could potentially translate to another MVP-caliber season.

3) An injury and personal matters cost him two years, but Michael Kopech is back in action as one of the most exciting pitchers in the White Sox organization. Whether his control remains consistent enough or his stuff stays unimpacted by the injury has yet to be seen, but the White Sox still dream of his 105 mph fastball and ace potential.

4) As the crown jewel of the current White Sox farm system, Andrew Vaughn possesses an advanced plate approach, strong slugging potential, and the ability to make consistent contact. Despite his defensive limitations, Vaughn will be a fast riser through the White Sox ranks and should be in the starting lineup by the second half of the season.

 

7) Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays surprised everyone by defeating behemoths such as the Yankees and the Astros to reach the World Series, eventually falling just short to the heavily-favored Dodgers. As the Rays continued to lose major pieces from primarily their starting rotation in the offseason, the team will still have a chance at surprising everyone due to the depth of their farm system, young Major League talent, and advanced scouting and training departments. Prolonged success is in store for the Rays.

Offseason additions: SP Luis Patino, C Francisco Mejia, SP Michael Wacha, SP Chris Archer, SP Rich Hill, RP Hunter Strickland, RP Collin McHugh

Offseason subtractions: SP Blake Snell, SP Charlie Morton, LF Hunter Renfroe, RP Jose Alvarado, 1B Nate Lowe, RP Aaron Loup

Players to watch:

1) The consensus number one prospect in baseball is no joke. Wander Franco possesses generationally-elite switch-hitting abilities, raw power, and strong baserunning and fielding skills. While he is only 20 years old, Franco should be on the fast tracks to the majors and could potentially make a huge impact this year.

2) One of the stranger specimens in baseball, Tyler Glasnow has yet to fully put together all of his tools over an extended period of time. His pitching arsenal is indisputably elite, but Glasnow needs to find ways to reduce hard contact and maintain consistent control in order to blossom into the ace that he could become.

3) After shattering postseason records with a historically-unprecedented performance upon baseball’s biggest stage, rookie Randy Arozarena has generated huge amounts of hype around him. Arozarena’s exciting power and speed are limited by his extremely aggressive plate approach, but he should still be an important piece in the Rays’ playoff hunt.

4) While he did deliver impressive results across multiple years in Japan, Yoshi Tsutsugo struggled in his first year in the MLB, raising concerns regarding his future potential. Tsutsugo will have a second chance at proving his worth to the Rays with more experience in the US and could turn into a productive power bat.

 

8) Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays made some serious splashes in the free-agent market to bolster all aspects of the team. Building off of its young offensive core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the Blue Jays added top-tier outfielder George Springer, star closer Kirby Yates, and a variety of other decent players to bolster the depth of the roster. Even though they face stiff competition from within their division and need pitching to play up, the Blue Jays will not fade away easily from the postseason picture.

Offseason additions: OF George Springer, SS Marcus Semien, RP Kirby Yates, SP Steven Matz. SP Tyler Chatwood, RP David Phelps, RP Tommy Milone, RP Francisco Liriano

Offseason subtractions: SS Jonathan Villar, RP Ken Giles, SP Matt Shoemaker, SP Chase Anderson, SP Taijuan Walker, 3B Travis Shaw, RF Derek Fisher, RP Shun Yamaguchi, RP Anthony Bass, RP Thomas Pannone

Players to watch:

1)  Perhaps it is unfair to compare him to the overwhelming hype he received as a prospect, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has almost felt like a disappointment in his first two seasons in the majors. Despite Guerrero’s initial struggles, his raw power should pay dividends, and his physical transformation over the offseason can unlock his superstar potential.

2) As Toronto’s most prized pitching prospect, Nate Pearson brings an elite triple-digit fastball, solid offspeed pitches, and solid command to the table. If Pearson is able to maintain his health and durability, Pearson will be an ace for the foreseeable future, greatly bolstering Toronto’s at-times-shaky rotation.

3) After a highly successful stint with the Astros, George Springer found himself a new home in Toronto, greatly strengthening the outfield situation of the team. Springer is a true five-tool athlete with above-average abilities all across the board and should be a mainstay in the Blue Jays’ lineup for the foreseeable future.

4) Following a few mediocre seasons, Teoscar Hernandez has finally found his footing with a breakout season, netting MVP votes as well as a Silver Slugger award. Hernandez will feature in a crowded outfield but should project to be in the starting lineup as long as he continues to destroy baseballs despite poor defense and a tendency to strikeout.

 

9) Minnesota Twins

There is a reason why the Minnesota Twins are still referred to as the Bomba Squad. Hitters such as Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, and Miguel Sano highlight an entire lineup that features accomplished home run hitters, making them a nightmare for any competition in baseball. While pitching has been fairly inconsistent without adequate depth, the offense should be enough to carry the team to considerable success in 2021. The additions of perennial Gold Glover Andrelton Simmons and other depth pieces in the rotation and bullpen will not hurt, either.

Offseason additions: SS Andrelton Simmons, SP JA Happ, SS JT Riddle, RP Alex Colome, RP Hansel Robles, SP Matt Shoemaker

Offseason subtractions: SP Jake Odorizzi, SP Rich Hill, LF Eddie Rosario, 3B Marwin Gonzalez, C Alex Avila, RP Trevor May, RP Sergio Romo, RP Tyler Clippard, 3B Ehire Adrianza

Players to watch:

1) As another exciting power hitter for the Minnesota Twins, Max Kepler has demonstrated the ceiling of his abilities in a strong 2019 campaign but cooled off in 2020. He needs to convert more batted balls into hits which, in addition to his strong plate discipline and raw power, will guarantee him

2) While his bat is average at best, shortstop Andrelton Simmons is one of the most talented defenders in baseball’s history and has been a perennial Gold Glove candidate at a premium position. His skillsets will greatly boost the Twins’ flawed defense and could potentially boost his sneaky Hall-of-Fame credentials in the following seasons.

3) After making a rare, bizarre debut in the middle of a playoff game, Alex Kirilloff is turning heads with his strong hitting tools. A vacancy in the Twins’ outfield could mean that the top prospect sees Major League action from Opening Day and brings yet another well-rounded bat to the team.

4) A hitter who profiles as the exact opposite of the standard Twins hitter, Luis Arraez relies on his sheer ability to hit for average, instead of power, to support the team. If Arraez can stay healthy, his elite abilities in making consistent contact and avoiding strikeouts provide a vital change of pace from the rest of the team.

 

10) Houston Astros

Just two years removed from their last World Series appearance, the Houston Astros still remain a force to be reckoned with. Their offensive core from their controversial 2017 World Series title, consisting of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa, still remains intact as young talent has risen through the ranks to restock any losses. While injuries, aging, free-agent losses have severely weakened their rotation, the Astros should still be a dominant force as long as their rotation and bullpen hold up.

Offseason additions: SP Jake Odorizzi, RP Steve Cishek, RF Steven Souza Jr.

Offseason subtractions: RF George Springer, RF Josh Reddick, RP Roberto Osuna, SP Rogelio Armenteros, RP Brad Peacock, RP Cy Sneed, RP Chris Devenski

Players to watch:

1) A positive COVID-19 diagnosis and knee surgery robbed him of his 2020 season, but Yordan Alvarez is ready to go back into action as one of the league’s premier sluggers. While his defensive handicaps will limit his playing time out of the DH spot, Alvarez should be a star based on his sheer strength and hitting capabilities alone.

2) After finally seeing consistent playing time, Kyle Tucker demonstrated his capabilities as a solid presence in both the outfield and the batting order. Tucker should be able to slot nicely into the Astros’ outfield with his all-around capabilities and can continue to grow as a young hitter as well.

3) After some varied results in limited actions across three seasons, Myles Straw is finally ready to lay claim to a starting position in the lineup. Straw has virtually no power whatsoever, but his elite speed, strong defense, and projectable contact ability will make him a starter as well as a potential leadoff hitter.

4) Following an objectively disappointing 2019 campaign, Framber Valdez turned the corner and has emerged as a new rotation weapon for the Astros. While his season remained criminally underrated, Valdez possesses the ability to build up upon his previous success with an elite curveball spin rate and groundball rate.

 

 

Tier 3: Potential Surprises

Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout celebrates (AP Photo/Ben Margot).

While the following five teams would have to fight for a postseason spot, if everything clicks, they could very well become dominant forces down the stretch. It is worth keeping an eye on these teams as potential surprise powerhouses.

 

11) Cleveland Indians

Even after losing major pieces in superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor and elite pitchers in Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco, the Cleveland Indians are still an exceptionally strong team across multiple facets. Its lineup leaves something to be desired but still has major upside, and the pitching is still exceptionally strong thanks to a well-established pitching infrastructure with young players blossoming into stars. Cleveland is still looking to snap its World Series drought, and it could potentially make a push for the title if all of its young stars come to fruition.

Offseason additions: SS Amed Rosario, SS Andres Gimenez, LF Eddie Rosario, LF Ben Gamel, OF Harold Ramirez, RP Bryan Shaw

Offseason subtractions: SS Francisco Lindor, SP Carlos Carrasco, 1B Carlos Santana, RP Brad Hand, RP Adam Cimber, RF Tyler Naquin, CF Delino DeShields, C Sandy Leon, 2B Mike Freeman

Players to watch:

1) As if his 2019 season was not good enough, Shane Bieber made a statement with a stellar Cy Young season with the league’s lowest ERA, most strikeouts, lowest hit percentage, and in numerous other statistical categories. He has a knack for having strong command over an elite arsenal and will continue to be one of the best pitchers in baseball for 2021.

2) As the centerpiece of returns for the Francisco Lindor trade, Amed Rosario has been rather underwhelming in his four years in the Majors despite his decent potential and young age. Rosario needs to show that he can at least hit the ball at 2019 levels and maintaining solid speed and defense, or else he will lose his job to fellow trade piece Andres Gimenez.

3) Following a successful 2019 rookie season, Oscar Mercado truly had a disastrous 2020 season with free falls in almost every offensive category. Mercado needs to prove that his presence in the outfield offers positive production in Cleveland’s search for a consistent offensive lineup.

4) Whether it be the result of his funky delivery or utter dominance, James Karinchak has become a bullpen star for Cleveland. His unhittable fastball-curveball combination should guarantee him the upper hand in any matchup as long as he figures out some control issues.

 

12) Los Angeles Angels

The Angels are in a tricky situation. Even with one of the greatest players in all of baseball’s history, Mike Trout, as well as other immensely talented individuals, the Angels seem to keep running into bad luck with free agent signings and poor player progression. However, it is also important to recognize that the Angels still have star power on their team. As long as the rotation stays decent and some question marks in the lineup are resolved, the team could finally make a serious postseason run.

Offseason additions: SS Jose Iglesias, SP Jose Quintana, RF Dexter Fowler, C Kurt Suzuki, SP Alex Cobb, RP Raisel Iglesias, RP Alex Claudio, RP Junior Guerra, 2B Phil Gosselin, CF Jon Jay, CF Juan Lagares, RP Jake Faria, RP Thomas Pannone

Offseason subtractions: SS Andrelton Simmons, SP Julio Teheran, 2B Jahmai Jones, RP Matt Andriese, RP Keynan Middleton, RP Noe Ramirez

Players to watch:

1) There is no question about it. Mike Trout is baseball’s best player right now, a future Hall of Famer, and will be one of baseball’s all-time greats for consistently putting up MVP-caliber statistics across the board. Trout will continue his dominance with the Angels and seeks to capture the elusive postseason title to further bolster his case as the greatest of all time.

2) As baseball’s most exciting two-way player in decades, Shohei Ohtani ran into injuries in 2019 and 2020, handicapping his hitting abilities and casting doubt over his pitching career. In 2021, Ohtani will attempt once more to fulfill his dream of being a pitching ace and power slugger at the same time. If he succeeds, Ohtani can be a legitimate MVP contender.

3) Perhaps he was promoted too soon, but highly-rated prospect Jo Adell had a disastrous rookie season and seemed like he forgot how to hit and field properly. That said, Adell is still only 21 years old and has plenty of time to adjust to the majors. Adell needs to prove to himself and the baseball world that he can become a jack-of-all-trades for the Angels as advertised.

4) Aside from being one of baseball’s more bizarre memes, David Fletcher has quietly put together a strong resume as a utility infielder for the Angels. While he has no power, Fletcher has elite hitting statistics and strikeout rates, sneaky speed, and true defensive versatility, allowing him to contribute greatly for his team as a criminally underrated player.

 

13) Washington Nationals

Fresh off of a 2019 World Series victory, the Washington Nationals then proceeded to perform poorly after weak performances across the board. In order to confront such struggles, the Nationals shook up their roster by letting go numerous familiar faces and bringing in new talent, such as Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, through trades and free agency. The success of the team hinges on the aging rotation rebounding from subpar seasons and the lineup to begin producing outside its star players.

Offseason additions: 1B Josh Bell, LF Kyle Schwarber, SP Jon Lester, RP Brad Hand, SP Rogelio Armenteros, 2B Hernan Perez, C Alex Avila

Offseason subtractions: 2B Howie Kendrick, SP Anibal Sanchez, SP Wil Crowe, 1B Eric Thames, RF Adam Eaton, 3B Asdrubal Cabrera, C Kurt Suzuki, RP Sean Doolittle, CF Michael A. Taylor, RP Roenis Elias

Players to watch:

1) After a few decent, heavily-underrated seasons, Trea Turner finally broke out in big fashion with a career year in 2020. He flashed elite hitting tools, surprising amounts of power, and continued to be one of baseball’s fastest players. Turner’s continued success will be key in providing a dangerous presence before the heavy hitters that follow him in the lineup.

2) Out of all hitters in the Major Leagues, Juan Soto just might be the best of them all. At just 22 years old, Soto is already drawing comparisons to some of the greatest in baseball history with his elite performance in every offensive category. Soto will continue to amaze crowds with his sheer talent and will put up MVP-worthy numbers.

3) Even with his worst showing in eight years, Max Scherzer still performed at a decent level, which should speak volumes to his illustrious career on the pitching mound. Scherzer needs to make sure that he is able to limit contact in order to regain his previous form as a Hall-of-Fame pitcher despite his rising age.

4) As one of the Nationals’ most hyped-up prospects, Carter Kieboom has yet to fulfill the lofty expectations placed upon him in limited appearances over the past two seasons. The Nationals still believe that the former top prospect’s potentially-elite hitting tool will eventually develop and, if not, he could be a potential trade piece.

 

14) Philadelphia Phillies

Surviving in a strong division is difficult, but standing out amidst a sea of accomplished teams is even more difficult. The Phillies have fallen victim to this trap even after posting up strong offensive numbers. The culprit? Their top-heavy pitching rotation, poor defense, and historically horrid bullpen sank the team’s overall efforts for glory. The Phillies retooled their bullpen while adding a few other depth pieces, and much of the team’s season remains up in the air and depends on whether the offseason moves were enough to patch up concerns across the team.

Offseason additions: LF Matt Joyce, RP Archie Bradley, RP Jose Alvarado, RP Hector Rondon, RP Brandon Kintzler, SP Chase Anderson, SP Ivan Nova, C Jeff Mathis

Offseason subtractions: RF Jay Bruce, SP Jake Arrieta, RP Victor Arano, RP Brandon Workman, RP David Phelps, RP Cole Irvin, RP Jose Alvarez

Players to watch:

1) Following a callup in 2020, Alec Bohm wasted no time demonstrating that he fit into the team like a glove (get it?) by showcasing a strong offensive performance. While his defense left something to be desired, Bohm’s continued training and maturation will set him on the path to success as the Phillies look to him as a permanent fixture.

2) Overrated is a word often associated with him, yet Bryce Harper is no slouch. It is unfair to write off his constant ability to make solid contact, hit home runs, having elite plate discipline, and run bases effectively. Harper has demonstrated continued greatness through elite statistical measures and should replicate similar results.

3) A slew of arm injuries severely hampered Phillies’ top prospect Spencer Howard as he attempts to establish a presence in the Major Leagues. The Phillies need Howard to prove that he can avoid further injuries and inconsistencies and that his strong pitch mix remains effective against the best in the game.

4) A minor hiccup in 2019 drew some concerned looks, but Aaron Nola quickly reminded the world that he was still a dominant weapon for the Phillies. Nola deserves more credit for performing at a high level for extended periods of time but needs to make sure that he limits hard contact and September struggles if he wants to replicate previous successes.

 

15) St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals seem to have the constant ability to perform well enough each year to be in consideration for a playoff spot. This year, it seems to be no different. The pitching staff features a solid core that does come with a few question marks scattered across. The offense did lose a number of players such as Kolten Wong and Dexter Fowler while also seeing former stars age considerably, but the acquisition of top-tier third baseman Nolan Arenado pushes the team to be the favorites to win an extremely weak division.

Offseason additions: 3B Nolan Arenado

Offseason subtractions: 2B Kolten Wong, SP Austin Gomber, RF Dexter Fowler, C Matt Wieters, 2B Brad Miller, RP John Brebbia

Players to watch:

1) After being the centerpiece of one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory, Nolan Arenado takes his defensive wizardry and strong offensive production to St. Louis in hopes of playing for a contending team. While there are concerns about whether he could adapt away from hitter-friendly Coors Field, Arenado should continue to produce at an All-Star level.

2) The question marks that linger in the Cardinals’ outfield may soon be answered by Dylan Carlson, an exciting young prospect with average to plus abilities across the board. Carlson’s well-rounded approach and strong power will suit him well after gaining experience in limited appearances in 2020 as he projects to be a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2021.

3) Baseball’s hardest-throwing pitcher is back, as Jordan Hicks has finally fully recovered from his arm surgery and an opt-out of the 2020 pandemic season. Hicks will need to shake off a little bit of rust due to prolonged periods of inaction, but he should go back quickly to being one of the most dominant relievers in the game today.

4) While a down year in 2020 stopped much of his previous momentum, Jack Flaherty still has the skillset to regain his ace form from 2018 through 2019. Perhaps a full season is all Flaherty needs to miss more bats and maintain more control, and his success will be crucial to the Cardinals’ quest to win the division pennant.

 

 

Tier 4: Average, At Best

Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks walks off emotionless as always (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong).

The following five teams, while not completely abysmal, are not in a competitive standing compared to some of the aforementioned organizations. While certain adjustments and a bit of luck could potentially push them over the edge into a postseason berth, optimism must be handled with extreme caution.

 

16) Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics are starting to feel the pressure to perform after losing major free agents such as Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks despite a division-winning record in 2020. Yet, the A’s seem to be familiar with the current situation they are stuck in. The team made some low-stakes signings of replacement players and depth pieces that have lent great success to the organization over the past few years, and the further development of young talent and potential rebound seasons from veteran players will be enough to help Oakland vault back into relevance.

Offseason additions: SS Elvis Andrus, 1B Mitch Moreland, RP Adam Kolarek, RP Sergio Romo, RP Trevor Rosenthal

Offseason subtractions: SS Marcus Semien, SP Mike Minor, LF Khris Davis, RP Liam Hendriks, 2B Tommy La Stella, LF Robbie Grossman, 3B Sheldon Neuse, CF Dustin Fowler, 3B Jake Lamb, RP Joakim Soria

Players to watch:

1) After a rather uneventful 2020 season, Jesus Luzardo is ready to make a statement with a breakout year in 2021. His prospect profile has always been consistently high due to his upper-90s fastball, elite changeup, and plus command of his pitches. As long as he remains healthy, Luzardo has all the necessary pieces in place to succeed as a young pitcher.

2) A breakout season at a premium position is hard to combine, and Sean Murphy is fitting that description exactly for the Athletics. His elite power, vision, and arm strength will carry him to success if he could make sure to hit more and whiff less. Murphy’s continued maturation will prove invaluable to a team that relies on young talent to succeed.

3) With a similar profile to previously-mentioned Jesus Luzardo, AJ Puk is also looking to establish himself as a solid, youthful power pitcher in the A’s rotation. Puk has struggled with injuries previously, yet his flexibility as either a starter or a relief pitcher will boost his value for the team should he struggle to find a footing within the rotation.

4) Even with a subpar season under his belt, Matt Olson‘s talent cannot be written off. His swing mechanics were off last year, contributing to a poor contact rate, and his usual Gold Glove-worthy defense was also disrupted. Olson has made some adjustments over the offseason that should allow him to put his power bat to use, allowing him to return to elite form.

 

17) Chicago Cubs

Following several below-expectations seasons, the Cubs promised a roster shakeup and they delivered. While the 2016 core of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez was retained, other notable presences such as Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, and Kyle Schwarber have since departed the team. The Cubs are betting on rebound seasons from their biggest stars and their slow-throwing pitching staff relies on solid defense, but there is a legitimate chance that the Cubs go all out in their last hurrah season.

Offseason additions: LF Joc Pederson, SP Jake Arrieta, SP Zach Davies, 2B Eric Sogard, CF Jake Marisnick, RP Brandon Workman, 3B Matt Duffy, C Austin Romine, SP Trevor Williams, SP Kohl Stewart, RP Jonathan Holder

Offseason subtractions: SP Yu Darvish, SP Jon Lester, LF Kyle Schwarber, SP Jose Quintana, CF Albert Almora Jr., C Victor Caratini, CF Billy Hamilton, RP Jeremy Jeffress, 2B Jason Kipnis, 2B Daniel Descalso, SP Tyler Chatwood, RP Duane Underwood Jr.

Players to watch:

1) After being demoted to the minor leagues to make offensive adjustments, Ian Happ transformed himself into an extremely capable hitter and mounted an MVP-caliber season until an eye injury halted his momentum. Happ’s continual adjustments and consistency, along with his versatility, will prove to be valuable to the Cubs’ playoff hopes for 2021.

2) After only playing 89 games in the minors, Nico Hoerner was quickly called up to the Majors to play in a limited capacity in 2019 and struggled in 2020. While Hoerner has shown promise as a Gold Glove-caliber defender and solid athlete, he needs to adjust his swing to hit the ball harder at a higher launch angle to avoid being sent back down to the minors.

3) Following the addition of a new slider to his pitching arsenal, Adbert Alzolay is finally emerging as the homegrown pitching talent the Cubs desperately lacked over the past few years. If Alzolay is able to command his fastball more effectively and remain healthy across an entire season, he could be the X-factor in the Cubs’ hunt for a postseason berth.

4) After an extremely lackluster 2020 campaign offensively, Javier Baez is primed to have a rebound season and regain his previous form. Whether it be the result of a lack of in-game video or shortened adjustment times in a COVID-shortened season, Baez should be able to show that last year was an anomaly compared to his otherwise-stellar career.

 

18) Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers ran into a fairly disappointing season with poor performances from star players and generally weak offensive outputs across the team. While the offensive core has largely the same besides the loss of long-term Brewer Ryan Braun and utility player Eric Sogard, defensive-oriented starters Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kolten Wong were brought in to further position the Brewers as a defensively-sound team. The Brewers need their defense, starting rotation, and youngsters to step up to challenge in order to mount a serious postseason challenge.

Offseason additions: CF Jackie Bradley Jr., 2B Kolten Wong, 2B Tim Lopes, 3B Travis Shaw

Offseason subtractions: LF Ryan Braun, 2B Eric Sogard, 3B Jed Gyorko, LF Ben Gamel, RP Corey Knebel, RP Alex Claudio

Players to watch:

1) After mounting one of the most unexpected Rookie of the Year campaigns in recent memory, Devin Williams was virtually unhittable as a reliever. His blazing upper-90s fastball and devastating changeup (which has been dubbed the “Airbender” for its unbelievable movement) are enough to carry him to prolonged success even with minor control issues.

2) As another star who fell victim to the general weirdness of 2020, Christian Yelich’s offense slowed down considerably as he struck out too often and could not make consistent contact. Despite these struggles, Yelich will most likely return to his previous elite form as he provides the star power the Brewers desperately need to succeed.

3) While he flashed huge power potential during his debut in the 2019 season, Keston Hiura regressed in 2020 after making too much weak contact while still playing poor defense. The Brewers are counting on Hiura to return to his previous form as an elite slugger while also addressing his defensive concerns by moving him to first base.

4) Even though he was slowed down by an oblique injury, Corbin Burnes demonstrated just how exciting of a pitcher he could be by rebounding in big fashion. Burnes’ success in 2021 hinges on his ability to continue his high strikeout rates and limit barrel hits as he projects to be a strong starter for the Brewers.

 

19) Boston Red Sox

In the two years following their World Series run, the Red Sox put up a somewhat disappointing season followed by an unmitigated disaster. Poor performances from star players such as J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers, combined with atrocious pitching performances without the help of their top two aces due to injuries, contributed to a poor season that led the Red Sox to retool the team. Questions still loom over positions such as first base and the closer, but the Red Sox should at least outperform their 2020 showing and even see success as certain players rebound.

Offseason additions: LF Hunter Renfroe, 2B Kike Hernandez, SP Hirokazu Sawamura, CF Franchy Codero, CF Danny Santana, 3B Marwin Gonzalez, SP Garrett Richards, RP Adam Ottavino, RP Matt Andriese

Offseason subtractions: LF Andrew Benintendi, CF Jackie Bradley Jr., 2B Dustin Pedroia, RP Collin McHugh, C Deivy Grullon

Players to watch:

1) Despite putting up career numbers, Alex Verdugo’s peripheral stats actually regressed across 2020 yet still hit the ball relatively well and played elite defense, garnering down-ballot MVP votes in the process. If Verdugo increases the amount of consistent solid contact he makes, he could fill the giant shoes of superstar and trade return Mookie Betts.

2) A taste of the Majors could be especially eye-opening, and Bobby Dalbec seized the opportunity to find room for growth. His power is truly elite and his defense and baserunning skills are solid enough, but he needs to make sure he makes enough contact to flourish in his second showing. Dalbec’s boom-or-bust nature could determine the Red Sox’s fate.

3) After struggling in 2019 and losing 2020 due to Tommy John surgery, Chris Sale is poised to return to the mound in the middle of the 2021 season. Sale has expressed optimism around his recovery process and will provide consistent ace-level gameplay, serving as a major upgrade to the Red Sox’s starting rotation.

4) A COVID-19 infection and heart condition robbed a year away, yet Eduardo Rodriguez is ready to remind the baseball world of his talents. Rodriguez’s high groundball rate, limiting of hard contact, and decent strikeout numbers will serve him well as he aims to be the interim ace for the Red Sox until the aforementioned Sale arrives back.

 

20) Cincinnati Reds

After much buzz surrounding the team’s chances in 2020 with the additions of big-name bats Nicholas Castellanos and Mike Moustakas, the Cincinnati Reds cooled off considerably following streak performances across the team. Letting go of free agents such as Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer and other starting players such as Freddy Galvis and Raisel Iglesias will considerably hurt the team’s chances for 2021. Reds could very well be a fire-sale team by the Trade Deadline or possibly contend for a wild card berth if their players overperform projections.

Offseason additions: 2B Kyle Farmer, 2B Dee Strange-Gordon, CF Tyler Naquin, C Deivy Grullon, SP Carson Fulmer, RP Sean Doolittle, RP Cam Bedrosian, RP Noe Ramirez, 2B Mike Freeman

Offseason subtractions: SP Trevor Bauer, SS Freddy Galvis, LF Brian Goodwin, C Curt Casali, RP Raisel Iglesias, RP Archie Bradley, RP Anthony DeSclafani, RP Robert Stephenson

Players to watch:

1) Being a two-way player is no easy feat, but Michael Lorenzen has been able to mostly balance his duties as a relief pitcher and occasional outfielder for the Reds. Lorenzen’s diverse skill set will continue to make an impact as he moves around the field and could potentially even slot into the starting rotation.

2) After being considered a top prospect with elite hitting potential, Nick Senzel ran into injuries and illnesses each from 2018 through 2020, limiting his playing time and handicapping his abilities. If he can stay healthy for the entire season, Senzel could unleash his elite speed, defensive versatility, and projectable batting abilities to become a five-tool player.

3) 20 Major League at-bats later, Tyler Stephenson remains one of the most exciting prospects in the Reds’ farm system. He has a solid bat for catchers and shows maturity behind the plate while calling games and throwing out runners. Stephenson projects to be one of the youngest catchers at the Show and will compete with Tucker Barnhart to start.

4) Being shipped away from the Yankees seemed to be just what Sonny Gray needed. His pitching numbers saw an almost-immediate improvement as he entered himself in conversations regarding the best pitchers within the league. While he has since cooled off a little, Gray will anchor the Reds’ rotation and could be a potential trade piece by July.

 

 

Tier 5: Longshot Teams

Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais looks towards his team with…anger? Disgust? Disappointment? (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

While these five teams probably will not make it to the postseason, if everything clicks in their favor and some question marks are answered, they might be a dark horse candidate for the wild card race and, subsequently, the postseason.

 

21) Kansas City Royals

The Royals quietly had a strong offseason, bringing in impact players such as former Rookie of the Year Benintendi and Minor to add on to an exciting young core with a decent veteran presence. While many of the new veteran additions have underperformed in 2020 and the bullpen remains shaky at best, the Royals should continue to improve with a strong minor league pitching infrastructure and exciting hitting prospects rising through the ranks.

Offseason additions: LF Andrew Benintendi, SP Mike Minor, 1B Carlos Santana, 2B Hanser Alberto, CF Michael A. Taylor, CF Jarrod Dyson, RP Wade Davis, RP Brad Brach

Offseason subtractions: 3B Maikel Franco, CF Franchy Cordero, RP Ian Kennedy, LF Alex Gordon

Players to watch:

1) While he struggled in the first half of 2020, Adalberto Mondesi quickly caught lightning in a bottle a went on a hot streak in September and was the best player in baseball throughout the month. While his hitting leaves more to be desired, Mondesi’s elite defense and baserunning have made him a quiet favorite amongst sports betters to break out.

2) Playing for a poor team will not bring much publicity, making Whit Merrifield one of the most underappreciated players across the past few seasons. His versatility as a super-utility player, elite speedster, and consistent high-average hitter makes him one of the most valuable assets of the team even as he looks to settle into a more consistent role.

3) Despite posting fairly pedestrian metrics in the past three years, Brad Keller has seen success with decent groundball rates, limited hard contact, and also good luck. Keller’s future needs more guarantee behind it, and the pitcher is making data-driven adjustments to his fastball and other aspects of his game to ensure that his success could be prolonged.

4) After having a monster season in 2020, Josh Staumont is emerging as an elite bullpen force for the Royals as one of the hardest throwing pitchers in the league. Staumont possesses a triple-digit fastball and elite curveball and just needs to limit his walk rate and hard-hit percentage to become even more dominant.

 

22) Miami Marlins

The Miami Marlins were the Cinderella team of last season, sneaking into the postseason and defeating the Cubs in a wild card series after losing dozens of players to a COVID-19 outbreak. However, this season will not be as kind. Major losses throughout the offseason, combined with the fact that last season’s successes were buoyed by extremely good luck, spell stormy waters ahead for 2021. The Marlins will most likely not be competitive this season, but as multiple talented prospects start ascending to the Majors, they could see rapid improvement soon.

Offseason additions: RP Adam Cimber, RP Dylan Floro, SP Gio Gonzalez, SP Ross Detwiler, RP Anthony Bass, RP John Curtiss

Offseason subtractions: SP Jose Urena, SP Jordan Yamamoto, OF Harold Ramirez, C Francisco Cervelli, RP Brandon Kintzler, RP Alex Vasia, RP Ryne Stanek, RP Drew Steckenrider

Players to watch:

1) Bursting onto the baseball scene with strong debut numbers in 2020, Sixto Sanchez wields a strong arsenal that boasts a triple-digit fastball in addition to three other quality offerings. Sanchez’s command is also elite and he is able to generate a decent amount of contact, creating an extremely exciting top prospect who seeks to graduate into a true ace for the rotation.

2) A stable presence in an otherwise-shaky rotation, Sandy Alcantara is stepping up as a team leader despite being 25 years old with three years of experience. Alcantara’s strong performances can largely be attributed to his ability to limit hard contact and strides in walk rate, and he will continue to see favorable results if his career stays on the current trajectory.

3) 62 plate appearance should not raise any alarms, but Jazz Chisholm showed that he still needs some time to fully develop all of his tools. The exciting young shortstop has an extremely aggressive plate approach that can be exploited but otherwise possesses strong abilities that can carry him to a starting position as he competes against Isan Diaz.

4) Regressions in batting statistics across 2019 and 2020 have raised some concerns regarding the long-term future of Jorge Alfaro. While he still has a strong arm, Alfaro’s pitch framing has been below average and his batted ball exit velocities and launch angles have steadily decreased. Alfaro needs to show that the Marlins can still trust him with catching duties.

 

23) Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners are one of the more underrated teams in all of baseball, featuring a variety of high-upside young talent with seasoned veterans. Players such as Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, and Emerson Hancock headline the up-and-coming prospects that will feature in the team soon, whereas veterans such as Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger will still provide solid production. The team is heavily relying on rebound projects and inexperienced players to succeed this year, but the future is bright. Bonus: if you want to learn more about this truly bizarre team, check this series out!

Offseason additions: SP James Paxton, RP Ken Giles, RP Drew Steckenrider, RP Keynan Middleton, RP Paul Sewald, RP Roenis Elias

Offseason subtractions: 2B Dee Strange-Gordon, 2B Tim Lopes, RF Phillip Ervin

Players to watch:

1) The adversity he faced due to service time manipulation by the Mariners’ front office is a testament to Jarred Kelenic’s sheer talent. As a consensus top 10 prospect in all baseball, Kelenic possesses every tool including power, advanced approaches, speed, defense, a strong arm, and the confidence necessary to become a bonafide superstar.

2) A breakout season and an AL Rookie of the Year later, Kyle Lewis is looking to carry on his momentum into the 2021 season. His athleticism will almost guarantee future success and as long as Lewis can ensure that he can connect with the baseball more cleanly, he will be an outfield staple for years to come.

3) A Gold Glove award and strong power numbers are no easy feats, but Evan White’s rookie season was marred by a disastrous batting average as he simply could not hit a baseball. In order to provide a positive contribution to the team, White has to connect with more baseballs and allow his natural power, along with elite defense, to speak for itself.

4) Coming off of a disappointing 2019, Dylan Moore found success fulfilling the role of a super-utility player, covering eight positions (including pitcher!) while maintaining strong offensive output. Moore looks to improve upon his exciting numbers in 2021 as he finds a more consistent role as an everyday second baseman for the Mariners moving forwards.

 

24) San Francisco Giants

Compared to their initial projections, the San Francisco Giants actually fared quite well in 2020 with breakout performances from players such as Brandon Belt, Alex Dickerson, and Austin Slater. After new additions to add depth to the entire team combined with various losses and expected regressions, the Giants seem to be in a similar state as they were at the beginning of the 2020 season: a team with upside but also numerous concerns. While there is certainly the chance for them to push for a wild card spot like last year, expect a subpar performance from the team.

Offseason additions: 2B Tommy La Stella, SP Alex Wood, SP Aaron Sanchez, C Curt Casali, 1B Justin Bour, RP John Brebbia, RP Anthony DeSclafani, RP Jose Alvarez, RP Jake McGee

Offseason subtractions: SP Drew Smyly, SP Jeff Samardzija, SP Trevor Cahill, SP Tyler Anderson, RP Tony Watson

Players to watch:

1) Even with a late debut at age 28, Mike Yastrzemski quickly proved that he deserved a starting role with two extremely strong seasons and even garnered some MVP votes along the way. Yastrzemski aims to focus on his bat control and outfield defense in 2021 to build off of his role as one of the star players on the Giants.

2) After multiple years of subpar performance in the Majors, 32-year-old Donovan Solano suddenly broke out in major fashion after accumulating hit after hit last year, eventually taking home a Silver Slugger award. Whether Solano’s breakout season was a fluke is up for debate as he attempts to keep his starting job amidst numerous competitors.

3) Despite struggling throughout the first half of 2020, Mauricio Dubon found his footing and dramatically increased production levels in the final stretch of the season. While his position is in flux due to extensive competition, Dubon’s revamped physique and new, patient plate approach will allow him to achieve more consistency.

4) After 9 seasons of solid offensive output and defensive play, Brandon Belt hit his way to career highs while staying mostly healthy throughout the season. Belt excelled in almost every offensive category and hopes to replicate those results despite suffering major setbacks due to illnesses and surgeries in the offseason.

 

25) Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks are a weird team. After making a series of win-now moves through free agent signings and trades, they fell short of that goal after limping towards a 25-35 record in the season with poor performances across almost every aspect of the team. Players aged considerably, important pieces within the season were traded, and even more depth was lost in the offseason. The Diamondbacks still have an outside chance of outperforming expectations, but only if all their players return to prime form.

Offseason additions: SS Asdrubal Cabrera, RP Joakim Soria, RP Tyler Clippard, RP Chris Devenski, RP Anthony Swarzak

Offseason subtractions: SP Mike Leake, RP Hector Rondon, RP Junior Guerra, OF Jon Jay

Players to watch:

1) As one of the few highlights last year, Zac Gallen pitched at an elite level and remains one of the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball. Gallen already has an elite arsenal and could achieve high strikeout rates, but his greatest weapon is his ability to command all his pitches on the edges of strike zones. He could very well fight his way to a Cy Young this year.

2) After a breakout year and a fourth-place finish in the 2019 NL MVP race, Ketel Marte stopped taking walks all of a sudden and saw dramatically reduced quality contact numbers, struggling as a result. Marte will switch to center field this year and is betting on his sheer athleticism and past success to be a leader for the Diamondbacks once more.

3) As the highlight free agent signing of the Diamondbacks last year, Madison Bumgarner seemed to have forgotten how to pitch and had a truly abysmal season. The former ace remains confident in his ability to bounce back to pre-2020 forms with a more steady workout regimen and regular pitching conditions.

4) While his 2020 season was no match for his previous year’s strong campaign, Christian Walker still remained largely consistent in being able to produce power numbers and hit for a decent average. Walker has continued to work on his plate approach and barrel numbers to improve as one of Arizona’s more dependable players.

 

Tier 6: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Oh, boy (ESPN).

No other explanation is needed.

 

26) Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers have had a few dismal years from 2017 through 2020, never finishing above a 41.1% win rate in the past four seasons. In this rebuilding phase, the team solidified its farm system with top picks in recent amateur drafts, international free agent signings, and big-name trades. As a result, the current iteration of the Tigers includes numerous young players and pitchers with the presence of a few veteran leaders and should continue to improve as the years go by.

Offseason additions: SP Jose Urena, C Wilson Ramos, 3B Renato Nunez, RF Nomar Mazara, LF Robbie Grossman, SP Julio Teheran, RP Derek Holland

Offseason subtractions: 1B CJ Cron, C Austin Romine, SP Jordan Zimmerman, SP Ivan Nova

Players to watch:

1) Despite a disastrous first showing, Casey Mize is still immensely talented and should rebound from his poor form in 2021. Mize is known for his strong pitch mix and command and should display those tools once he overcomes initial jitters at the Major Leagues. Mize has the potential to be the ace of the future Detroit Tigers following their rebuilding phase.

2) As another exciting pitching prospect who struggled in initial showings, Tarik Skubal still showed promise with his performance as he still maintained high strikeout numbers with a strong arsenal. Skubal will still have to fine-tune his mechanics, but he already learned a fifth pitch to add to his mix and could potentially become an impact starter down the stretch.

3) After being drafted first overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, Spencer Torkelson carries high expectations with him as he seeks to power through the minors as soon as possible. His offensive profile is well-rounded with potentially-elite power numbers and could see some time with the Major League team just this year.

4) The Tigers’ top prospects are almost like a broken record, and Isaac Paredes shared similar struggles with other youngsters in the team as he seemed completely overmatched. He will have a second chance with the team to adjust to more advanced pitching that he is the complete second base package that will provide a boost to the lineup.

 

27) Baltimore Orioles

As a team that, unfortunately, has not seen much success over the past few decades, the Baltimore Orioles are still stuck in a limbo of mediocrity. Even so, the Orioles mounted a surprisingly competitive campaign in 2020 until a complete collapse towards the finish line, helped out by a number of overperforming players. Unfortunately, most of those same players have since left the team or regressed in abilities, so the team needs to hope for the best with its top prospects.

Offseason additions: SS Freddy Galvis, 2B Jahmai Jones, 3B Maikel Franco, SP Felix Hernandez

Offseason subtractions: SS Jose Iglesias, 2B Hanser Alberto, SP Alex Cobb, 3B Renato Nunez, SP Kohl Stewart

Players to watch:

1) The number one pick of the 2019 draft, Adley Rutschman, has certainly generated huge amounts of hype around his exceptional switch-hitting abilities, advanced defensive play behind the dish, and widely-lauded leadership skills. Rutschman has a chance of being called up this year and should be a superstar for the team moving forward.

2) After a successful rookie season offensively, Ryan Mountcastle factors in as a major contributor to the Orioles’ future plans moving forwards. While his performance was certainly bolstered by luck, Mountcastle should replace poorly-performing Chris Davis and will continue to develop his overall batting abilities.

3) While he missed out on the entire 2020 season due to a colon cancer diagnosis, Trey Mancini successfully underwent chemotherapy and surgeries and will be returning to action this year. If he can recover successfully, Mancini will be a sneaky superstar for the Orioles based on his stellar 2019 performance.

4) Even though the surface-level stats suggest a somewhat disappointing season, John Means improved in various aspects, decreasing his hit and walk rate and increasing strikeout rates. Means will have to utilize his decent repertoire and elite control and hope for better luck and reduced home run rates in order to return to his 2019 All-Star form.

 

28) Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers had an interesting offseason, losing numerous impact players and long-time organizational mainstays yet acquiring a variety of high-upside youth and other solid depth pieces. While the team certainly has a few exciting pieces, the rotation is objectively concerning and the lineup lacks depth across multiple positions. The Rangers are betting on various young players to develop, stars to remain healthy, and veterans to rebound in performance. Expect the team to take unorthodox approaches to scrap together any semblance of success.

Offseason additions: SP Dane Dunning, LF David Dahl, SP Kohei Arihara, 1B Nate Lowe, LF Khris Davis, CF Delino DeShields, 2B Charlie Culberson, SP Mike Foltynewicz, RP Ian Kennedy, RP Edubray Ramos, RP Hunter Wood

Offseason subtractions: SP Corey Kluber, SP Lance Lynn, SS Elvis Andrus, LF Shin-Soo Choo, OF Danny Santana, C Jeff Mathis, 2B Derek Dietrich, RP Nick Goody, RP Juan Nicasio

Players to watch:

1) Some players follow a complicated path to success, but Joey Gallo’s game plan is easy to understand: hit the ball, and it will travel far. Yet, that is precisely what Gallo needs to work on. His batting average was abysmal last year at below .200, but if he stays healthy enough and could simply hit the ball more often, then he will be a star player for the Rangers.

2) As one of the most exciting prospects in the Rangers system, Josh Jung has demonstrated considerable growth throughout 2020 and projects to debut in the majors soon. His mature, advanced hitting profile and solid athleticism will allow him to skip two levels in the minors and start one step away from the Show.

3) As the main return for the Lance Lynn trade, Dane Dunning put up decent numbers for the White Sox in limited appearances throughout 2020. Dunning has the ability to mix and match five different pitches and utilize speed differences and control to obtain results and should continue to mature as a player in 2021.

4) After hitting at a mediocre rate and collapsing defensively in 2020, Nick Solak is looking to turn around his performance this year. His value hinges on his pure hitting abilities, advanced plate discipline, and defensive versatility as he contests a starting spot in the lineup with the likes of Rougned Odor.

 

29) Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies arguably had the worst offseason out of all the teams after trading away the face of the franchise Nolan Arenado for an extremely poor return and losing other impact players to cut costs. Expect the team to sell other big-name players such as Trevor Story and nest in the bottom of the league for the foreseeable future with poor-performing players and a weak farm system. If you are a Rockies fan, I am truly, very, incredibly sorry.

Offseason additions: SP Austin Gomber, 1B CJ Cron, SP Dereck Rodriguez, RP Robert Stephenson

Offseason subtractions: 3B Nolan Arenado, LF David Dahl, C Tony Wolters, CF Kevin Pillar, 1B Daniel Murphy, LF Matt Kemp

Players to watch:

1) Even after putting up a solid season in 2020 following an illustrious five-year stretch, Trevor Story is on the hot stove as a potential trade candidate for the Rockies. While he will continue to be one of the best shortstops in the league, the focus is on whether the Rockies flip him at the trade deadline, preferably for a better haul than the Nolan Arenado trade.

2) After being marred by multiple injuries across the 2019 to 2020 seasons, Brendan Rodgers looks to recapture his previous success as a former top prospect. If he stays healthy enough, Rodgers should be able to unleash his premium hit tool on pitchers in hitter-friendly home stadium Coors Field.

3) Four years of high-variance later, German Marquez continues to try and put his talents together for an elite season. Marquez possesses an elite pitching repertoire and decent control but needs to limit hard-hit rates at pitcher-friendly Coors Field to see success. Despite such concerns, Marquez can mount a serious dark horse candidacy for the Cy Young.

4) As the main return for the Nolan Arenado trade, Austin Gomber has a chip on his shoulders to perform well to minimize the frustration of Rockies fans. Equipped with a strong arsenal, solid 2020 season, and high self-confidence, Gomber has the tools to minimize the Coors Field effect on his high-flyball rate and establish himself in the rotation.

 

30) Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates are, once more, projected to be dead last in the entire league after a historically-bad season and yet another fire sale to orient the team towards the future. With former stars such as Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, and Jameson Taillon leaving in trades, the Pirates could only hope for further development within their farm system as well as a few breakout seasons to occur. Perhaps, some number one draft picks might wash the pain away.

Offseason additions: SP Wil Crowe, LF Brian Goodwin, C Tony Wolters, 3B Todd Frazier, SP Trevor Cahill, 2B Wilmer Difo, CF Dustin Fowler, RP Duane Underwood Jr.

Offseason subtractions: 1B Josh Bell, SP Joe Musgrove, SP Jameson Taillon, SP Chris Archer, RP Keone Kela, 1B Jose Osuna, SP Trevor Williams, SS JT Riddle, RP Derek Holland

Players to watch:

1) Entering the 2020 season as one of the Pirates’ most exciting prospects, Ke’Bryan Hayes made a name for himself with an incredibly strong rookie season, placing sixth in Rookie of the Year voting. The multitalented player should hopefully be able to hit, slug, run, field, and do it all for the Pirates as one of the lone bright spots of the team.

2) After extreme unluckiness and, subsequently, luckiness across the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Mitch Keller is finally given the opportunity to perform regularly over a normal season. There are still hopes in Keller becoming the ace that scouts once saw in him, and he will have to serve as an anchor in an unreliable Pirates rotation despite having limited experience.

3) Despite a disappointing showing in 2020, Bryan Reynolds remains as one of the only players with considerable upside on the team. Reynolds saw timing issues with his hitting, but still kept his strong defense and speed and has the potential to return to his 2019 levels. Reynolds is still young enough to be a mainstay in the Pirates’ lineup for years to come.

4) There is not much to get excited about in the Major Leagues, but Quinn Priester could rapidly rise through the minors and emerge as a prospect with true ace potential in 2021. Even though Priester only saw 9 games of action in his entire professional career, he reportedly made huge strides over the past year and could turn heads with his athleticism and arsenal.

 

 

A special thank you to MLB.com’s messy, yet detailed account of all transactions of every Major League team and to Baseball-Reference, whose vast library of statistics was a good resource for geeking out on. Another shoutout to Baseball Savant’s visually pleasing, yet way too niche trove of information that helped with the analysis of individual player performances. Finally, to you, the reader, who somehow made it all the way through the article without passing out. Baseball is a fickle sport with accidents and surprises coming out of left field (get it?) seemingly every day. Rankings are merely a guide to the game, but the real beauty of the sport lies in its very unpredictability and variance. And thus, hopefully, this ranking helps give a guide to 2021 ball.

About the Author

Oliver Ni
Oliver Ni is a senior from Bolingbrook and lives in 05C. He is the co-Editor-in-Chief for The Acronym and is stoked to find another reason to put off schoolwork. Outside of The Acronym, he can be found frantically running to catch a club meeting, binge watching YouTube videos, or being extremely frustrated with the Cubs.

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