1 Player from Every MLB Team with the Biggest Bust Potential for 2020
The arrival of Major League Baseball spring training is typically a time for optimism. Hope springs eternal and whatnot.
We've put on our pessimist hats to identify one player on every MLB team who has significant bust potential for the 2020 season.
These guys are going into the year with high expectations either because of their contracts or their perceived talent. However, they're in danger of being cut down by the injury bug or the regression monster.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: LHP John Means
The Baltimore Orioles endured a 108-loss season in 2019, but at least John Means was a bright spot. He was an All-Star in July, and he ultimately finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting after posting a 3.60 ERA over 155 innings.
But can Means do that again? Some of his peripherals suggest yes, but maybe not if he keeps both his strikeout rate (19.0%) and ground-ball rate (30.9%) on the low end. That's just asking for trouble amid baseball's current high-strikeout, high-home run environment.
Boston Red Sox: LHP Chris Sale
Now that Mookie Betts and David Price are gone, there's a bunch of pressure on the Boston Red Sox's incumbents to play their best in 2020. That goes double for $145 million ace Chris Sale, who'll need to stay healthy and improve on the 4.40 ERA he posted last year.
It isn't out of the question that Sale will revert back to his Cy Young-caliber self. But between his 2018 shoulder injury, his 2019 elbow injury and the alarming rate at which he served up hard contact last year, his prime could just as easily remain in his past.
New York Yankees: DH/OF Giancarlo Stanton
Gerrit Cole will have all eyes on him as he seeks to justify his $324 million contract with the New York Yankees. But because he's an extraordinarily talented pitcher in the thick of his prime, we don't have grounds to doubt his ability to do so.
Giancarlo Stanton, on the other hand, probably has 50-50 odds of living up to his $26 million salary. Out of his last five seasons, his 2017 campaign is the only one in which he was healthy and dominant all the way through. Plus, he's now on the wrong side of 30.
Tampa Bay Rays: RHP Charlie Morton
The Tampa Bay Rays are short on high earners, and their roster generally isn't built around a small core of superstars. Such things make it hard to pinpoint specific Rays players who come with both high expectations and serious downside.
Charlie Morton, whose $15 million salary overshadows the salaries of all other Rays players, wins the "honor" pretty much by default. He's a very good pitcher who's capable of repeating last year's 3.05 ERA, yet it's also possible that his 36-year-old body won't respond well to his career-high 194.2 innings.
Toronto Blue Jays: LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
Though the Toronto Blue Jays were known to be shopping for a top-of-the-rotation starter, they still surprised everyone when they inked Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four-year, $80 million contract. They're hoping he has more where last year's MLB-leading 2.32 ERA came from.
However, Ryu did enjoy some apparent good fortune in 2019. The 32-year-old is also swapping the National League for the American League and Dodger Stadium for the Rogers Centre. Throw in how he has a crowded injury history, and there's plenty that could go wrong for him this season.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: SS Tim Anderson
Tim Anderson was a revelation for the Chicago White Sox last season. He made absolutely no apologies for playing the game his way, and his style served him well as he finished the year with a major league-best .335 batting average.
But can Anderson do that again? His MLB-worst walk-to-strikeout ratio and inflated batting average on balls in play are two reasons to be skeptical. And if his batting average does drop, it'll be easier to notice his modest power and defensive shortcomings.
Cleveland Indians: 1B Carlos Santana
The Cleveland Indians secured a fourth straight season with at least 90 wins in 2019 partially because they got more than expected out of Carlos Santana. They took him on in a salary dump the previous winter, yet he surged with a career-high .911 OPS and 34 home runs.
However, Santana did regress to the mean with a 103-point drop-off in his OPS from the first half to the second half. He also hit into a fair amount of good luck in general. A reality check may be on tap for his age-34 season in 2020.
Detroit Tigers: LHP Matthew Boyd
In the wake of their 114-loss campaign in 2019, nobody should expect the Detroit Tigers to be good this season. All they can realistically hope for is a few silver linings, a la Matthew Boyd in 2019.
Or at least, Matthew Boyd in the first half of 2019. His second half wasn't quite as good, as he went from a 3.87 ERA to a 5.51 ERA. Because his three true outcomes (K, BB and HR) also took a turn for the worse, one possible reading of his second half is that opposing hitters figured him out.
Kansas City Royals: RF Hunter Dozier
After losing 103 games in 2019, the Kansas City Royals are also going into 2020 with low expectations. But in case anyone's thinking it, we aren't about to rag on Jorge Soler. Beyond hitting 48 total homers last year, he also found a whole 'nother gear down the stretch.
We'll instead throw cold water on Hunter Dozier. Though he broke out with an .870 OPS and 26 homers last year, he also had some injury trouble and generally benefited from quite a bit of good luck. The 28-year-old could be due for a return to earth this season.
Minnesota Twins: RHP Jake Odorizzi
Josh Donaldson is aboard with the Minnesota Twins after signing the largest free-agent contract in their history. But while he's a little old (34) for total comfort, he's also riding high after revitalizing his superstardom with a .900 OPS, 37 homers and 6.1 rWAR in 2019.
So, we'll pick on Jake Odorizzi instead. His $17.8 million salary seems fair for a guy coming off an All-Star campaign, but one catch is that Odorizzi was good for only two trips through the batting order before he lost his effectiveness. The Twins could be burned if they push him for more innings in 2020.
American League West
Houston Astros: 2B Jose Altuve
Now that its sign-stealing methods have been exposed, the entire Houston Astros offense could go bust in 2020. But on an individual level, it's fair to wonder whether Jose Altuve's superstardom is on thin ice.
Over the last three seasons, the 2017 AL MVP's rWAR output has declined from 8.1 to 5.2 to 3.7. He dealt with injuries in both 2018 and 2019. He's also declined in some areas (namely AVG and OBP) offensively, with sagging peripherals to match. And come May 6, he'll be on the wrong side of 30.
Los Angeles Angels: DH/RHP Shohei Ohtani
Though he won't be back on the mound until May, Shohei Ohtani will indeed return to pitching in 2020. Because the Los Angeles Angels will also lean on his powerful left-handed bat, he should remind everyone that he is baseball's best two-way player since Babe Ruth.
However, that's assuming Ohtani's arm is both fully healthy and not at all rusty after his long recovery from Tommy John surgery. It's also assuming he can snap out of the slump that killed his offensive production in the second half of 2019.
Oakland Athletics: CF Ramon Laureano
Not many people outside of Oakland seemed to notice, but Ramon Laureano was one of the more electrifying players in baseball last season. The Athletics center fielder was a regular in defensive highlights, and he posted an .860 OPS with 24 home runs on offense.
But as fun as he was to watch on defense, Laureano posted below-average metrics last season. He struck out (123) about five times more often than he walked (27) and generally overachieved. These things point to a possible wake-up call in 2020.
Seattle Mariners: OF Kyle Lewis
This is going to be a tough season for the Seattle Mariners, but at least their fans will have plenty of young up-and-comers to cheer on. For instance, 2016 first-rounder Kyle Lewis will get a chance to build on the .885 OPS and six homers he posted in Seattle last September.
To his credit, Lewis teased a nearly unparalleled knack for hard contact. But simply making contact was a problem, as he struck out 29 times in only 75 plate appearances. If that doesn't improve in 2020, then neither will he.
Texas Rangers: RHP Corey Kluber
The Texas Rangers seemed to get a good deal when they acquired Corey Kluber from the Indians in December. They gave up a one-note outfielder (Delino DeShields) and a reliever (Emmanuel Clase), and they got a two-time Cy Young Award winner in return.
Yet there are reasons why Kluber came so cheap. He made only seven starts in 2019 because of arm and oblique injuries. He's also a 33-year-old whose velocity and peripherals are deteriorating. So even if he stays healthy in 2020, his decline may continue unabated.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: LF Marcell Ozuna
The Atlanta Braves failed to re-sign Josh Donaldson, but it's possible that their one-year, $18 million deal with Marcell Ozuna will make up for that. He's a two-time All-Star who continued to put up outstanding peripherals even as his offensive production lagged in 2018 and 2019.
But was the disconnect between Ozuna's expected and actual production an anomaly or a trend? If it was an anomaly, he might revert back to his superstar-caliber self from 2017. If it was a trend, then he'll be what he's otherwise always been: a good but not great everyday left fielder.
Miami Marlins: LHP Caleb Smith
Not much went right for the Miami Marlins in 2019, but they at least had a halfway decent starting rotation. To wit, Sandy Alcantara was an All-Star and Caleb Smith momentarily had suitors lining up for him ahead of the trade deadline.
Yet last year was a tale of two halves for Smith. In the first, he posted a 3.50 ERA with 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings. In the second, he slumped to a 5.42 ERA and an 8.9 K/9. Like with Boyd in Detroit, there's a question of whether hitters simply figured Smith out.
New York Mets: RHP Noah Syndergaard
The New York Mets could be plenty good this year, but only if their rotation trio of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman lives up to its lofty potential. There will be extra pressure on Syndergaard to improve on last season's pedestrian 4.28 ERA.
"Thor" led all starters in average fastball velocity, so there was nothing wrong with his arm. Yet he also had a good-not-great strikeout rate and a career-high contact rate. Despite his electric arm, he's another hurler that hitters may have figured out.
Philadelphia Phillies: RHP Zack Wheeler
The Philadelphia Phillies signed Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract in hopes that he'll be the co-ace that Aaron Nola was missing in 2019. If nothing else, he has the electrifying stuff for the job.
Yet Wheeler had nasty stuff for his entire tenure with the Mets, and he still existed mostly as a merely average pitcher. He'll at least have to come up with more strikeouts as a Phillie, or else he'll risk an ongoing disparity between his potential and his reality.
Washington Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer
Though he hasn't been the best on an annual basis, no pitcher has been as good as Max Scherzer over the last seven seasons. He's been an All-Star each year, collected three Cy Young Awards and compiled an MLB-high 47.0 rWAR.
However, Scherzer is coming off a year in which he suffered a back injury in the regular season and a neck injury in October. With his 36th birthday approaching on July 27, further signs of mortality may await him in 2020.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: 3B/OF Kris Bryant
The Chicago Cubs have fallen far since winning the World Series in 2016, but they haven't yet blown up the core that made that season possible. It may still have some magic left in it, particularly if Kris Bryant can reestablish himself as an MVP-caliber star in 2020.
There's a decent chance of that happening so long as he can stay healthy, but Bryant also has some red flags that can't be ignored. To wit, his offensive peripherals have been declining annually since he won the NL MVP in 2016. More of that in 2020 would bode poorly.
Cincinnati Reds: RHP Trevor Bauer
Though the Cincinnati Reds mainly focused their offseason on renovating their offense, their odds of contending in 2020 will be driven by their rotation. If all goes well, Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Wade Miley and Anthony DeSclafani could be the league's best starting five.
Yet Bauer is by far the biggest unknown among that group. The Reds can only hope he'll pitch like he did in 2018, when he was an All-Star and Cy Young Award contender. But both his results and his peripherals suggest that season is an obvious outlier.
Milwaukee Brewers: 2B Keston Hiura
The Milwaukee Brewers have also renovated their roster, yet not in the same way the Reds did. The Brewers did most of their offseason shopping in the bargain bin, so they'll need their incumbent stars to carry them to a third straight postseason berth this year.
That includes Keston Hiura, who caused a stir as a rookie by posting a .938 OPS and 19 homers in only 84 games with Milwaukee last year. However, he also struck out 107 times in 348 plate appearances. Unless he clears his swing of holes, pitchers may find more and more ways to silence him.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 1B Josh Bell
The Pittsburgh Pirates didn't have much fun en route to 93 losses in 2019, and this season doesn't figure to be any better. At least they can count on Josh Bell to keep mashing dingers at the rate he did last year, which he finished with a career-high 37 long balls.
Or can they? Bell was good overall, but he experienced a severe drop-off (i.e., 244 points in OPS) from the first half to the second half. If he fails to recover from that, Pittsburgh's season only figures to become more miserable.
St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Dakota Hudson
Unless they add the impact bat that they sorely need in their offense, the St. Louis Cardinals' hopes of contending in 2020 will live or die on their pitching. To this end, they'll need Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson to do at least as much as they did last season.
Flaherty should do his part. Hudson? Maybe not so much. Despite his 3.35 ERA, he led baseball in walks and struck out only 7.0 batters per nine innings last season. He basically survived on ground-ball outs, and there's some evidence that they won't sustain him again in 2020.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: LHP Madison Bumgarner
The Arizona Diamondbacks' rotation is now led by an $85 million ace who comes with plenty of credentials. Madison Bumgarner has been an All-Star four times and a World Series champion three times, and he certainly knows about pitching in the NL West.
Yet it's hard to argue that Bumgarner is still in his prime. He was injured for much of 2017 and 2018, and he posted the worst ERA of his career despite good health in 2019. His peripherals are likewise in decline, and his home/road splits as a San Francisco Giant only raise more doubts.
Colorado Rockies: CF David Dahl
The Colorado Rockies' response to losing 91 games in 2019 was to do a whole lot of nothing over the winter. Even if they hold on to Nolan Arenado by some miracle, they'll need him and all of their other incumbent stars to play as well or better than they did last season.
We aren't sure David Dahl is up to it. Though he was an All-Star last season, he was worth only 0.4 rWAR by the end of it. He was bitten by the injury bug for the umpteenth time in his pro career. Even if he stays healthy in 2020, he'll need to improve his walk-to-strikeout ratio and hit better on the road.
Los Angeles Dodgers: LHP Clayton Kershaw
If this year's Los Angeles Dodgers are worse than last year's 106-win iteration in one way, it's that the front three of their rotation isn't as strong with David Price in for Ryu behind Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. And this is assuming that Kershaw can break his pattern of diminishing returns.
Kershaw was still plenty good in 2019, but his 3.03 ERA was a far cry from the microscopic ERAs he posted in his heyday between 2011 and 2017. His fastball is getting slower every year, and his strikeout and home run rates are heading in opposite directions. None of that is good news.
San Diego Padres: SS Fernando Tatis Jr.
If the San Diego Padres are going to go anywhere this season, they'll need Fernando Tatis Jr. to prove his 2019 season was the real deal. Though he only played in 84 games, he finished with 4.2 rWAR, a .969 OPS, 22 home runs and 16 stolen bases.
The trouble is, Tatis dramatically overperformed his expected results on offense. By one measure, he was also one of the worst defensive infielders in baseball last year. In short, he has warts that he needs to clear this season.
San Francisco Giants: RF Mike Yastrzemski
Now that Bumgarner and Will Smith are gone, all that's left on the San Francisco Giants' roster is a bunch of post-prime veterans and a handful of youngsters who haven't yet proven themselves. And also Mike Yastrzemski.
He was quite good as a 28-year-old rookie last season, finishing with an .852 OPS and 21 home runs. However, he did strike out 75 more times than he walked, and...well, that's honestly it. Truth be told, he's featured here because he's the only Giant who could possibly disappoint anyone this year.