9 MLB Players Who Could Shed the 'Bust' Label in 2020
The 2020 Major League Baseball season won't be long, yet there might be just enough time for a few players to improve their reputations.
Heck, some might even go from busts to stars.
For this, we applied a loose definition of the term "bust" and went looking for players who matched one of two descriptions: veterans who have been underperforming their presumed potential for several years, and younger players who have yet to live up to lofty expectations.
In all, nine rebound/breakout candidates caught our eye. Let's start with four veterans and go from there.
Tyler Chatwood, Chicago Cubs
When the Chicago Cubs signed Tyler Chatwood to a three-year, $38 million contract in December 2017, they were banking on the possibility that he was a better pitcher than his pedestrian results indicated.
So far, they've been wrong. Chatwood, 30, put up a 5.30 ERA with more walks than strikeouts in 2018, and he spent most of 2019 pitching out of Chicago's bullpen.
On the plus side, Chatwood was a sneaky weapon as a reliever last season. After overhauling his mechanics and toning down his cutter usage, the right-hander managed a decent 2.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and got his ERA down to 3.67 over 54 innings. What's more, he excelled at stifling hard contact.
Following the departure of Cole Hamels, Chatwood entered spring training as a starter and only enhanced his comeback potential with a 1.86 ERA, 11 strikeouts and two walks in 9.2 innings. Assuming he can get back on this track, the back end of Chicago's rotation will be in good hands.
Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers
Following a 2016 season in which Rougned Odor blasted 33 home runs as a mere 22-year-old, the Texas Rangers locked him in with a six-year, $49.5 million contract in March 2017.
However, Odor has mustered fewer WAR (2.6) than he did in his breakout season in '16 (2.7) in three years since then. He's kept the power coming with 78 home runs, but it hasn't been enough to make up for his .285 on-base percentage.
To his credit, though, Odor may have found something down the stretch of last season. His expected production improved dramatically from the first half (.301 xwOBA) to the second half (.344 xwOBA), in which he improved his walk and strikeout rates and both his launch angle and exit velocity.
Granted, it's perhaps not the wisest idea to read into a hot streak authored by a notoriously hot-and-cold hitter. But in the event that Odor does pick up where he left off, he might finally realize his upside.
Wil Myers, San Diego Padres
Similar to Odor, Wil Myers was fresh off an outstanding 2016 season when the San Diego Padres signed him to a six-year, $83 million extension in January 2017.
Also like Odor, however, Myers hasn't built on the promise of his '16 campaign. He was merely OK in 2017 and 2018, and downright bad in the process of posting minus-0.4 WAR in 2019. Plenty went wrong for him, yet his biggest issue was a career-worst 34.3 strikeout percentage.
Yet it's some comfort that Myers, 29, did well when he was able to get his bat to the ball. To wit, his xwOBA on contact continued its upward trend and even outpaced luminaries such as Freddie Freeman, Javier Baez and Austin Meadows.
If he can keep this up and get his strikeout rate back down to size, Myers stands to have a much better offensive season in 2020. As it is, he was off to a good start with a 1.097 OPS back in spring training.
Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies
Yet Wheeler's contract is perhaps the ultimate example of a bet placed not on proven ability but on potential. The Phillies may be paying him like an ace, but to this point his 100 ERA+ says he's been a merely league-average pitcher since entering the league as a top prospect in 2013.
The stuff is clearly there, though. The 30-year-old's fastball averaged 96.7 mph in 2019, and he may have finally figured out his best pitch mix, as he was posting a 1.85 ERA for the New York Mets in September. That stretch was marked by fewer sinkers and more four-seamers and curveballs.
This isn't exactly an original approach for the Launch Angle Age, but it's proved to be an effective one. If Wheeler sticks with it, he could achieve sustained excellence for the first time in his career.
Daniel Norris, Detroit Tigers
But to this point, Norris has just 5.5 WAR to show for his six seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers. And because he's lost a few ticks off his fastball, it's understandable if anyone thinks his shot at stardom has passed him by.
Yet Norris' 2019 season wasn't without encouraging aspects. He settled into a nice groove once the Tigers started using him as an opener in August, and he gradually adjusted his arsenal to rely less on his slider and more on his changeup. That's a good call, given that his changeup has exceptional vertical movement.
That pitch alone could guarantee the 27-year-old continued success as an opener, and even better things might await him if he also plays up his sneaky-good curveball.
Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins
Though other players were also involved, the Miami Marlins were mainly banking on Lewis Brinson to justify the trade that sent Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers in January 2018.
But as Yelich has become an MVP-winning superstar in Milwaukee, Brinson has posted minus-2.9 WAR in Miami. Last year was especially bad, as he played in only 75 games and posted a .457 OPS.
If nothing else, though, the Marlins can derive hope from how Brinson hit better than his results indicated after he returned from a minor league banishment in August. The 26-year-old promptly built off that in the spring, in which he had a 1.148 OPS and three home runs through 13 games.
Spring stats must always be taken with a boulder of salt, but it's a positive that Brinson struck out only three times in 31 plate appearances. As Marlins manager Don Mattingly said, per Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald, "You're looking at that whole package from the point of not just that he's getting hits, but he's hitting the ball hard and what it looks like."
Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves
The early stages of Dansby Swanson's professional career were plenty dramatic. He was drafted No. 1 overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015 and was then traded to the Atlanta Braves just a few months later.
Yet Swanson hasn't quite lived up to the hype since debuting in 2016. Even if outs above average gives an accurate picture of his defense at shortstop, there's still the matter of his generally below-average offensive output.
Nonetheless, the 26-year-old should get credit for taking a step forward to a .748 OPS in 2019, and he may have deserved even better. Specifically, he cut down his rate of swings outside of the strike zone and achieved career bests with his launch angle, exit velocity and hard-hit rate.
With better luck, this could be the year that Swanson becomes a quality shortstop on both sides of the ball. If he takes last season's efforts even further, he might launch himself into true stardom.
Dylan Bundy, Los Angeles Angels
Way back in 2013, MLB.com had Dylan Bundy ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the game behind only Jurickson Profar.
Because of Tommy John surgery, however, the right-hander didn't pitch in the majors that year or in 2014 and 2015. And despite some promising flashes for the Baltimore Orioles over the next four years, he ultimately managed just a 4.69 ERA and was traded to the Los Angeles Angels last December.
Yet Bundy is still only 27 years old, and it can only help him that he's out of the American League East and away from Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Still other reasons to be high on him include his slider—which is an elite swing-and-miss pitch—and his recent emphasis on pitching up in the zone with his high-spin fastball. Such things were driving a 1.59 ERA and 16.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in spring training and might finally elevate him to acehood in the regular season.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
It's perhaps unfair to include Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on this list. He's only played one season for the Blue Jays, after all, and it wasn't that bad.
But when you're being hyped as maybe the best offensive prospect in baseball history, you can expect some disappointment when you only come through with a .272/.339/.433 batting line in 123 games. Indeed, such numbers pale in comparison to the .331/.414/.531 that Guerrero authored in the minors.
Still, it must be kept in mind that Guerrero played all of his rookie season as a mere 20-year-old. There have surely been better age-20 seasons than his, but he's among the relatively few to play in more than 120 games and post an OPS+ over 100.
Plus, Guerrero was hot for longer than he was cold. In between the rough beginning and rough end of his rookie season was an 83-game stretch in which he slashed .295/.367/.515 with 15 home runs. With more of that, he'll step easily into stardom in 2020.