The shortened 60 game season has allowed MLB teams to get creative this year, and get our hopes up for who might be on the mound or taking at-bats. These teams are the ones that should be the most exciting, whether their record shows it or not.
In a way, this season is a win-win for the Padres organization. They have a young, incredibly exciting lineup that should be able to produce at a high-level and a rotation that looks like it’s going to be incredible in the long-term. This year – especially in its 60 games – could be a breakout year for San Diego.
The lineup should rock. If it struggles, the Padres have options to fill those holes from their taxi squad. Taylor Trammell was projected to have a decent role in the outfield this year. CJ Abrams could probably play anywhere, and if things come down to it, Robert Hassell could be used as well. The 18-year-old did just finish high school, but the Padres wouldn’t have put him on the taxi squad if there wasn’t some comfortability with him playing some major league innings.
Regardless of how the lineup turns out, San Diego will need significant help from the rotation in its current form. Chris Paddack, who was a stud in his first season in 2019, is the only guarantee San Diego can bank on to start games. Dinelson Lamet has battled injuries and hovered around the average mark on the mound through his MLB service time. Zach Davies is coming off a career year, but was at best a replacement level pitcher in seasons prior. Garrett Richards has had a single healthy season in the last four, and San Diego doesn’t know what it’s doing with its fifth spot behind him.
None of that is very encouraging aside from Paddack, but it leaves the Padres open to long-term options. Say the rotation is surprisingly good. San Diego will take that and hope to compete. If the group turns out how we fear, San Diego could implement a loaded bullpen as not only a fifth starter but even a potential fourth – less than half the games of a normal season gives them the innings to do that. Or they could effectively punt on the season and give Mackenzie Gore, Luis Patino and Adrian Morejon a shot at the big leagues. If those guys live up to their respective hypes, than San Diego wouldn’t be punting on the season.
Gore and Patino have been cautiously developed by San Diego though, and with good reason. There is no reason to push them this year – you don’t mess around with guys who are that good. But if progress is shown, throwing them into the fire wouldn’t hurt, and would be strictly an upside move for a team that’s been obsessed with that strategy for years.
Toronto’s (Or, Pittsburgh’s, or who???) Opening Day lineup is what gets them a spot on this list rather than their taxi squad, and that’s an Opening Day lineup that won’t feature Austin Martin, Nate Pearson or Simeon Woods Richardson.
Toronto, like San Diego, is loaded. But for a lot of their youth, this is going to be their first full year to show it off. San Diego’s is either fully engrained as big leaguers or may not get the chance at all.
That’s what makes Toronto so intriguing. This is essentially Bo Bichette’s, Cavan Biggio’s and Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s debut. Toronto’s infield is 3/4s rookies.
That’s how it should be. The Blue Jays are going about this the right way: when your young guys are ready, throw them into the fire and see what happens.
It could be a blaze or go out quickly.
The Blue Jays have an incredibly high ceiling in a 60 game season. Young players don’t have a long season to come down from their ups this year. Their highs will likely stay high. If Toronto’s youth comes out hot, they could be a top tier team.
Additionally, like San Diego, the pitching will be everything. The Blue Jays don’t have the star-studded depth the Padres do, but a theoretical rotation of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Pearson and Tanner Roark isn’t a bad start. Alek Manoah could be thrown in there as well. The ultimate hail mary would be adding Woods Richardson into the mix. He’s been great in camp, but it’s unlikely the 19-year-old sees big league innings.
In a perfect world, the pitching is good enough regardless of which guys are present in it, the infield carries the lineup, lights the world on fire and Toronto is in the playoffs. More likely is that the Blue Jays are entertaining as hell, and gear up for 2021 to be their year.
Detroit is going to suck, but their trio of Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Spencer Torkelson is about as entertaining as any cast in baseball. Mize and Manning are expected to debut at some point this year, while Torkelson seems less likely. This cast, in addition to Riley Greene, is the only reason to watch Detroit this year.
Chicago’s Opening Day roster is pretty good, and their taxi squad reflects that as well.
The White Sox are the first team on this list that likely won’t need to dip into their non-taxi squad talent – they should be good enough to survive without it.
That means that Chicago has an embarrassment of riches. With Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn in their system, the White Sox have infastrcutre in place to take care of slips in their lineup. Tim Anderson certainly figured it out last year, but that doesn’t mean it’ll come back to him this season – he could be replaceable at shortstop. Leury Garcia is a fine player, but his lack of power is significant – Vaughn could take care of that void.
The Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease spots in the rotation are question marks. Garrett Crochet – Chicago’s 1st round pick in the Draft in June – was arguably one of the more MLB ready arms in the draft. If the White Sox choose so, he could become a part of their cast of arms later on, if it’s an area that truly needs work.
Chicago is a team that’s built to withstand potential downfalls, and with these specific backups, they may get even better.
Like Detroit, the Mariners are going to suck this year because they have zero plan and a stunning lack of talent.
However, they could improve their rotation if they choose to pursue competency rather than tank. A trio of Justus Sheffield, Emerson Hancock and Logan Gilbert is sitting there for them. Hancock, despite his June arrival, could be deemed as ready. Gilbert is similar, and Sheffield was primed to be their ace.
Combine that with a potential and hopeful rebound from Yusei Kikuchi and Seattle has an incredibly fun and possibly successful rotation. Now they just need the talent around it.
These last three teams follow the White Sox mold of having an embarrassment of riches in a sense. All four plan on being competitive and even making playoffs this year – it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think any of them could make a deep run. Having depth on the taxi squad makes them all the more dangerous.
St. Louis has awesome players who have no place to really go. As if the Cardinals didn’t have enough young pitching, Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore are waiting in the wings, but the rotation seems full unless Adam Wainwright finally tails off (not something to bet on happening, by the way) or Carlos Martinez struggles heading back to a larger workload. Nolan Gorman is blocked by Tommy Edman, who really broke out in 2019. Dylan Carlson needs Tyler O’Neill to not live up to expectations – those are two young outfielders who are essentially on the same time line.
The Cardinals are in good shape if someone gets sick or is injured. In a normal year, St. Louis could be primed for a big trade with all the talent they have laying around.
This might be the homerism creeping in here, but Arizona’s farm system has come a long way since Mike Hazen took over as GM. The Diamondbacks have almost pulled off a worst-to-first move when it comes to their prospect stash over the years, and their taxi squad reflects that.
Arizona is keen on winning this season though, so they probably won’t dip in unless they need to. That may be likely, though. David Peralta’s health is always a question mark, and in a 60 game season, an IL stint could mean the whole season. That opens up the door for Alek Thomas, who though young has been highly touted. The same can go for Corbin Carroll as well.
The D-backs fought average play last year, and weak spots in the lineup were to blame. Pavin Smith could evolve as an interesting DH option – Thomas and Corbin are viable there as well.
Arizona’s pitching should be much improved this year, though the bullpen is still questionable. The D-backs have transitioned some of last year’s starters to relief work, but young options like 2020 first round pick Bryce Jarvis, Levi Kelly (he’s nasty) and J.B. Bukauskas could provide upgrades. Banking on that youth for multiple, daily innings of work is risky however.
When labeling the “embarrassment of riches” group in this article, the Dodgers should probably have their own tier all together.
Los Angeles has an embarrassment of riches on their Opening Day roster and on their taxi squad. None of Chicago, Arizona or St. Louis has that.
In a way, the Dodgers’ talent is blocked just like St. Louis’ is. For example, DJ Peters will have a hard time getting innings with Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Joe Pederson in the outfield, and that’s not even accounting for the existence of Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor.
Taylor’s role will be expanded early as Gavin Lux has been optioned down to the taxi squad to start the year. It’s a bit of a surprise, but he was slow getting up to speed in camp, and the Dodgers surely don’t want to milk his service time if they don’t have to. He will likely be the full time starter at second base eventually.
If the Dodgers have pitching problems, which is a big if, there are young options to step in. Tony Gonsolin was in consideration for a rotation spot, and Josiah Gray and Marshall Kasowski could probably play a role if needed.
“If” is the heart of this Dodgers team. If they win the World Series, if they choke, if they truly need help from their taxi squad. This should be the year “when” becomes the present, and “if” becomes the past.