All 30 MLB Teams' Next Big Thing to Be Excited About
Spring training isn't just a means for teams across Major League Baseball to get ready for a new season. It's also an excuse for them to take Monty Python's advice and look on the bright side of life.
In keeping with that spirit, we've highlighted the next big thing that each MLB team should be excited about. We went looking beyond the obvious, because of course the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers should be excited about Gerrit Cole and Mookie Betts, respectively.
Naturally, you can expect to hear plenty about prospects who are nearly ready to usher in new eras at the major league level. Because not every team is rich with young talent, we also covered potential storylines and possibilities for the 2020 season that deserve more hype.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: A Foundation Built Upon Adley Rutschman
The last two seasons have been rough on the Baltimore Orioles, but their rebuild is progressing more or less on schedule. They should have a strong foundation in place at least by the end of 2021, the cornerstone of which will be young catcher Adley Rutschman.
Though not even a year has passed since the Orioles chose Rutschman, 22, with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, he's already made his way to No. 4 overall in MLB.com's prospect rankings. That speaks to his upside on both sides of the ball, and the Orioles might get their first taste of it at some point this season.
Boston Red Sox: Jarren Duran Looks Like Jacoby Ellsbury 2.0
Mookie Betts? Traded. Alex Verdugo? Injured. Andrew Benintendi? Coming off a down year. Jackie Bradley Jr.? A free agent at the end of 2020. And yet the immediate future of the Boston Red Sox outfield could look bleaker, as they at least have Jarren Duran waiting in the wings.
Though Duran, 23, is only ranked as Boston's No. 8 prospect by MLB.com, he's building on a strong 2019 campaign with a .316 average and .988 OPS in spring training. With warp speed, good bat-to-ball skills and seemingly developing power, he bears a similar profile to former Red Sox All-Star Jacoby Ellsbury.
New York Yankees: Clint Frazier's Long-Awaited Breakout May Finally Be Nigh
The New York Yankees were arguably the team to beat in the American League when spring training began. Now that they're reeling from injuries to Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery), Aaron Judge (stress fracture), Giancarlo Stanton (calf strain) and Gary Sanchez (lower back), that notion is now doused in cold water.
On the plus side, Clint Frazier is teasing an ability to be a capable fill-in for Judge and Stanton with a 1.167 OPS through nine spring games. He still generally resembles the same guy who was once one of the game's top prospects, except with a clearer, more confident head on his shoulders.
Tampa Bay Rays: Wander Franco's Time Is Nigh
Franco is a legit five-tool shortstop who hit .327/.398/.487 at Single-A and High-A last season, and he did so as a mere 18-year-old. If he can keep up that pace as a 19-year-old this season, the Tampa Bay Rays' wish of seeing him in the majors by the end of 2020 might actually be granted.
Toronto Blue Jays: Wait Til They Get a Load of Nate Pearson
With young guns like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the heart of their lineup, the Toronto Blue Jays have every reason to be optimistic about the future of their offense. All they need now is a young ace in their rotation, and they have just the guy for the job.
That would be Nate Pearson, your garden-variety 6'6" right-hander whose fastball has been clocked as high as 105 mph. The 23-year-old has most recently been seen overpowering big league hitters in spring training. Before long, he'll take that act to The Show.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: 2020 Should Only Be the Start of Their Reign
We could make this about how, after breaking out in 2019, Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson may still have upside to explore. Or we could make it about one of the Chicago White Sox's top prospects, such as Luis Robert, Michael Kopech, Nick Madrigal or Andrew Vaughn.
Yet if White Sox fans should be excited about anything, it's the more general reality that this is very much a team on the rise. The White Sox should push for their first postseason since 2008 this year, and their mix of veteran and youthful talent should keep them in the hunt for years to come.
Cleveland Indians: A Full Season of Franmil Reyes Hitting Bombs
The Cleveland Indians are in a tough spot. They're good, but maybe not good enough to win the AL Central this year. That plus the weakness of their farm system might make a trade of superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor inevitable.
But in the face of terrifying truths, there is no elixir like dingers. The Indians should get plenty out of Franmil Reyes, who's slated for his first full season with the club. He hit 37 total home runs last year, and he hit most of 'em about as far as you'd expect from a dude who checks in at 6'5", 275 pounds.
Detroit Tigers: Casey Mize and Matt Manning Are Coming
This will be another rough season for the Detroit Tigers, but they at least figure to pitch well. Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull have good arms attached to their bodies, and it won't be long before they're joined by young right-handers Casey Mize and Matt Manning.
The two 22-year-olds both rank among baseball's top right-handed prospects, according to MLB.com. Mize boasts plus grades across the board, while Manning mainly relies on a stellar fastball-curveball combination. Though neither will break camp with the Tigers, both should be promoted sooner than later.
Kansas City Royals: Jorge Soler Isn't Finished Breaking Out
The Kansas City Royals have a top-10 prospect in shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., but the 19-year-old likely needs a couple more years of development. In the meantime, Royals fans will have to take what rooting interests they can get.
Jorge Soler did his part in 2019 blasting a club-record 48 home runs, but what if we proposed that he can get even better? For that, he would only need to carry the strides he made in the second half of 2019—in which he improved his walk and strikeout rates en route to a 1.076 OPS—over to 2020.
Minnesota Twins: There Will Probably Be Even More Dingers This Year
In shortstop Royce Lewis and outfielder Alex Kirilloff, the Minnesota Twins have two outstanding prospects of their own waiting in the wings. Trouble is, the lineup may be too loaded for either of them to get significant playing time in the near future.
So in lieu of a better idea, we'll hop on the hype train for said offense. It blasted a record 307 home runs in 2019 despite partial seasons from Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano, Mitch Garver and Byron Buxton. If they stay healthy and the Twins get what they expect out of newcomer Josh Donaldson, they could shatter their own home run record in 2020.
American League West
Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker Is Unstained by Scandal and Extremely Talented
The Houston Astros will likely never be forgiven for cheating their way to a World Series title in 2017, but they might shut a few people up if they hit their way to another in 2020. They have the offensive talent for it, especially if Kyle Tucker stakes his claim to major league stardom.
Though the 23-year-old isn't a prospect anymore, he recently qualified as one of the best after owning Triple-A to the tune of a .946 OPS, 58 homers and 50 stolen bases in 225 games. With upside like that, he might soon supplant Josh Reddick in right field and make Houston's offense truly unstoppable.
Los Angeles Angels: Jo Adell Is Ready to Play Alongside Mike Trout
With Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, Justin Upton and Tommy La Stella all in the same lineup, the Los Angeles Angels look ready to score plenty of runs at the outset of 2020. They also have a trump card to play in the event they feel like scoring even more: Jo Adell.
The Angels haven't deemed the 20-year-old outfielder worthy of a job yet, but it's just a matter of time. The five-tool wonder currently ranks as MLB.com's No. 6 prospect, and he's thus far spent the spring turning heads in Angels camp. It shouldn't be long before he's lining up alongside Trout in the majors.
Oakland Athletics: Jesus Luzardo Is No Ordinary Pitching Prospect
If the Oakland Athletics are going to match or even exceed the 97 wins they've achieved in back-to-back years, they're going to need a boost from a handful of relatively inexperienced youngsters. One of them is Jesus Luzardo, though you'd never know he was inexperienced from the way he pitches.
The 22-year-old has had some injuries in recent seasons, yet he's dominated whenever he's had a chance to take the ball. He can touch 99 mph with three above-average secondaries, and he has sharp command of all that he throws. With goods like that, he might even make a run at the AL Cy Young Award this year.
Seattle Mariners: Jarred Kelenic Is Accelerating His Timeline
Is it too soon to say the Seattle Mariners won last winter's blockbuster trade with the New York Mets? Probably. Heck, definitely. But while the Mets can only cross their fingers with regard to Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, the Mariners can only watch in awe as Jarred Kelenic careens toward The Show.
Kelenic, 20, was a well-regarded prospect when he came to the Mariners. Now he's the 11th-best talent in baseball following a dominant 2019 campaign, and he's carried it right over to the spring with a solid .798 OPS in Grapefruit League action. Though he's only made it as far as Double-A, he could make it to the majors in 2020 if he refuses to slow down.
Texas Rangers: Joey Gallo Has Unfinished Business
The Texas Rangers' farm system isn't particularly deep, and it's short on major league-ready talent to boot. But rather than worry about that, they need to be optimistic about what they can do this season.
To this end, nobody is more important than Joey Gallo. Though the 26-year-old hasn't really put everything together yet, he was trending in that direction in 2019 before oblique and wrist injuries ruined everything. If all goes well in 2020, he could put himself in the AL MVP race as a 50-homer slugger who also happens to be a good baserunner and quality defender.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: A Homegrown Super-Outfield Awaits
Ronald Acuna Jr. has it in mind to achieve the first 50-50 season in major league history in 2020. It says a lot about him that this isn't an unrealistic goal, but the Atlanta Braves otherwise can't be too comfortable with their outfield. Ender Inciarte and Marcell Ozuna are surrounded by questions.
On the plus side, it might not be long before Acuna has proper support. Cristian Pache and Drew Waters—who are MLB.com's No. 13 and No. 26 prospects, respectively—are expected to make it to the majors this year. If and when they do, the Braves will have five-tool talents at all three outfield positions.
Miami Marlins: The Youth Movement Is Coming
With any given rebuild, there typically comes a point when the first wave of kids arrives and a brighter future suddenly comes into focus. That hasn't really happened yet with the Miami Marlins, who've frankly had little to cheer about while losing 203 games over the last two seasons.
But this year should be different. Their farm system is quite good, and it should graduate right-handers Sixto Sanchez and Edward Cabrera and outfielder Jesus Sanchez to the majors this season. There could also be a path for shortstop Jazz Chisholm, who caught fire in Miami's system in the latter half of 2019.
New York Mets: The Hype Is Real
The New York Mets' focus is not and indeed should not be on the future. With their payroll pretty much maxed out and their farm system largely barren, they're basically all-in for 2020.
So in lieu of shining a light on a random prospect, we'll just say this: The hype surrounding the Mets right now is legit. Both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs project them to win the NL East, and they'll indeed do so if their powerful offense, star-studded rotation and electric bullpen live up to their potential.
Philadelphia Phillies: Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard Can Answer Big Questions
The Philadelphia Phillies aren't a bad team by any stretch, but it's not a reach to say they have more questions than other contenders in the NL East. To wit, they might have a talent shortage in their rotation, and whether Jean Segura can play third base remains to be seen.
Luckily for the Phillies, however, their two best prospects happen to be a starting pitcher (Spencer Howard) and a third baseman (Alec Bohm). Both will be knocking on the door to the majors in the near future, at which point they could be greeted as saviors at their respective positions.
Washington Nationals: Carter Kieboom Is Finally Getting His Shot
Would the Washington Nationals prefer to still have Anthony Rendon at third base? Well, yeah. But as far as potential replacements go, they could do worse than one of the very best prospects in baseball: Carter Kieboom.
The 22-year-old is ranked as highly as MLB's No. 11 prospect by Baseball Prospectus, and he certainly has nothing left to prove in the minors after hitting .303/.409/.493 at Triple-A in 2019. Even if he isn't a Rendon clone, he could ensure the Nats don't lose too much at the hot corner.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Center Field Might Actually Be in Good Hands
According to Baseball Reference, the Chicago Cubs got only 0.2 wins above replacement out of center field and zero out of second base in 2019. Both positions were still question marks at the outset of spring training, but center field is suddenly looking better thanks to Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr.
So far this spring, Almora has a .900 OPS and Happ has a 1.326 OPS. For Almora, that's the result of the work he put into his swing over the offseason. For Happ, it's basically more of the same after he finished last season on an absolute tear in September.
Cincinnati Reds: They Haven't Yet Seen Nick Senzel at His Best
The Cincinnati Reds added plenty of pieces over the winter, primarily with a focus on their offense by way of free-agent contracts for Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama. Once they came aboard, perhaps the biggest loser was former top prospect Nick Senzel, who was pushed onto the Reds bench.
But lest anyone give up on Senzel, he's still only 24 and should still have All-Star upside. This is, after all, a guy who was drafted No. 2 overall in 2016 and who subsequently hit .312/.388/.508 in the minors. He'll be an X-factor for the Reds this year if he gets back on that track.
Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura Back-to-Back for Years to Come
Though they've made the postseason in each of the last two seasons, the Milwaukee Brewers face a difficult road back to October in 2020. But no matter what happens, they can at least rest easy knowing they'll have a dynamic duo in the middle of their batting order for the foreseeable future.
That would be Keston Hiura, who posted a .938 OPS and 19 homers in only 84 games as a rookie in 2019, and Christian Yelich, who's literally Christian Yelich. The former is tied to Milwaukee through 2025. The latter might have hit free agency after 2022, but he's now the proud owner of a new extension that'll keep him in town through at least 2028.
Pittsburgh Pirates: They Have a Fun Lineup in Their Immediate Future
The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 93 games last year, and the signature move of their offseason was a trade that sent All-Star center fielder Starling Marte out of town. So even if they beat expectations this year, they'll probably still be the worst team in the NL Central.
On the bright side, they could end 2020 with one of the more dynamic lineups in the National League. Josh Bell and Bryan Reynolds broke out as stars last year, while Kevin Newman and Adam Frazier also had good seasons. Now the Pirates can anticipate a bounce-back year from Gregory Polanco and the arrivals of their top position-player prospects: third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes and shortstop Oneil Cruz.
St. Louis Cardinals: Dylan Carlson Is Coming to Rescue Their Offense
It's no secret the St. Louis Cardinals struggled offensively in 2019. It's also no secret they basically shrugged their shoulders at this problem over the offseason, during which they lost Marcell Ozuna and didn't bother to replace him.
Not to fear, for Dylan Carlson is here. After shooting up prospect lists courtesy of a .914 OPS, 26 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the minors last year, he's now pounding on the door to the majors with a 1.006 OPS in spring training. Clearly, the Cards should let him in.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Don't Overlook Luke Weaver and Zac Gallen
The Arizona Diamondbacks are arguably the most underrated contender in the National League. They particularly have some quality arms in their pitching staff, and we're not just talking about Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray and Mike Leake.
Indeed, this could be a breakout season for Luke Weaver and Zac Gallen. Though they comprise the back end of Arizona's starting rotation, they pitched like top-of-the-rotation starters with a combined 2.87 ERA in 20 starts for the D-backs in 2019. More of that could guarantee a postseason berth for the Snakes.
Colorado Rockies: They Might Have Cracked the Coors Field Code
A sense of doom is hanging over the Colorado Rockies in the early months of 2020. That's what happens when a team follows a 91-loss season by putting its best player on the trade market and doing, well, nothing else during the subsequent winter.
But if there's hope for the Rockies this year, The Athletic's Nick Groke covered it in an article about how the club's hitters adopted a new approach for hitting away from Coors Field midway through 2019. Because that begat an uptick (see here and here) in their road slugging percentage, they could actually be onto a solution for one of the franchise's fundamental challenges.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Their Bullpen Might Actually Get Out of the Way This Year
There are many reasons why, even after winning seven straight NL West titles and going to the World Series in 2017 and 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers are still mired in a 32-year championship drought. But perhaps one of the more underappreciated ones is the frequency with which their bullpen has let them down.
That shouldn't be the case in 2020. Kenley Jansen and Joe Kelly are reaping immediate benefits from their work at Driveline Baseball over the winter. Pedro Baez is also having a dominant spring, while newcomers Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol have impressed in small samples. If these guys keep it up, the Dodgers bullpen will be but one strength out of many in a championship-or-bust season.
San Diego Padres: Their Rotation Could Be Not Only Functional, But Good
There was plenty of blame to go around after the San Diego Padres' 2019 season devolved from its much-hyped beginning to just the latest in a long line of disappointments. But if nothing else, their starting rotation is equipped for a much better season in 2020.
Chris Paddack and Joey Lucchesi are each coming off breakout seasons. Garrett Richards and Dinelson Lamet, both of whom have sizzling stuff, are fully healthy. Newcomer Zach Davies quietly logged a 3.55 ERA with the Brewers in 2019. Should any of these guys falter, top-ranked prospect MacKenzie Gore will soon be ready to step in.
San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey's Heir Is Nearly Ready
The San Francisco Giants are probably ticketed for a grim season, but it won't be a total loss if some of the best fruits from their farm system are quick to ripen in the majors. That includes Mauricio Dubon, Logan Webb and Jaylin Davis, but Joey Bart is certainly the guy everyone's champing at the bit to see.
The 23-year-old isn't yet two years removed from going to the Giants at No. 2 overall in the 2018 draft, yet he's already advanced to Double-A and is now 7-for-16 with two home runs in spring training. At some point in 2020, he should take Buster Posey's place as the Giants' cornerstone catcher.