MLB League Pass Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand for 2021 Season?

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IApril 2, 2021

MLB League Pass Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand for 2021 Season?

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Behold, the 2021 MLB season is officially underway! 

    With the new campaign now in full swing, we at Bleacher Report thought we'd take our own stab at a "League Pass" (for you NBA watchers) style of rankings in terms of each team's watchability.

    These are not power rankings, though team success did play a smaller role in determining the rankings. If you want power rankings, refer to this piece by Bleacher Report's own Joel Reuter.

    Rather, the order for watchability was selected based on factors like star power and perceived national prominence. Ultimately, there is a lot of subjectivity in such rankings because viewers tune in for any number of reasons. 

    So, which teams deserve your attention in 2021?

Nos. 30-27

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    30. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Rookie third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes might be the singular reason to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2021. 

    Pittsburgh could again be the worst team in baseball, but it will be fascinating to see how Hayes builds on a 24-game stint in which he slashed .376/.442/.682 with 14 extra-base hits, including five homers. Hayes raked again this spring, hitting .431 with a 1.208 OPS before homering in Thursday's opener against the Chicago Cubs.

           

    29. Texas Rangers 

    There's not a whole lot to love about the Texas Rangers, a team that ranked last in the American League in runs scored and OPS in 2021.

    Joey Gallo will draw eyeballs (and scrutiny) for his spectacular allegiance to the three true outcomes and athleticism in the outfield. He will also be a trade candidate to watch. Dane Dunning should be an interesting follow after coming over in the Lance Lynn swap.

         

    28. Baltimore Orioles

    The Baltimore Orioles could climb up this list once the young guys start to come through the system. One of those youngsters, Ryan Mountcastle, could be a top candidate for AL Rookie of the Year. Another reason to watch the O's? The return of Trey Mancini, who had a great spring after missing all of 2020 with cancer.

         

    27. Colorado Rockies

    The Colorado Rockies are a mess of an organization. But they do have a five-tool shortstop in Trevor Story and a terrific right-handed arm in German Marquez. Veteran outfielder Charlie Blackmon also continues to produce at the plate.

Nos. 26-23

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    26. Detroit Tigers

    Although the Detroit Tigers are years from contention, the young arms have arrived. Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal will look to improve on their 2020 debuts, with Matt Manning likely coming up at some point during the season.

    There is also some interesting positional talent, notably switch-hitting corner infielder Jeimer Candelario and 23-year-old shortstop Willi Castro.

    Finally, Miggy Watch! Miguel Cabrera, that is. The future Hall of Famer is now 12 homers from 500 after taking reigning AL Cy Young Shane Bieber deep on Thursday. He is also 133 knocks from 3,000 hits. Can he join both clubs this season?

            

    25. Arizona Diamondbacks

    I'm not mad at those who feel this ranking is too low...or too high, for that matter. It's just that the Arizona Diamondbacks will likely put a mediocre product out there in 2021. 

    Zac Gallen is one of the best young arms in the game, though a hairline fracture will delay his first start. A Ketel Marte rebound might be in the cards after he finished fourth in the National League MVP voting in 2019.

           

    24. Miami Marlins

    The Marlins could certainly be higher based on the talent in the rotation. Sixto Sanchez, Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez all have strong upside and really serve as the backbone of Miami's organizational future.

    But the offense is limited. Starling Marte is exciting as a guy who can hit for some power and steal bases. Adam Duvall has good pop, and Brian Anderson has been a terrific asset at the hot corner. Still, the Marlins last year ranked 11th in the NL in runs and 12th in OPS and only added Duvall. There's just not enough there.

         

    23. San Francisco Giants

    The San Francisco Giants are like the inverse of the Marlins. They have an offense that ranked fifth in the NL in runs scored and OPS behind big seasons from the likes of Mike Yastrzemski, Brandon Belt and Alex Dickerson. San Francisco also added Tommy La Stella in the offseason.

    The rotation, however, is lacking in quality depth and big stuff. Kevin Gausman will try to bolster his market ahead of free agency, with the potential for Johnny Cueto to be a trade piece if he pitches decently.

Nos. 22-19

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    22. Seattle Mariners

    Perhaps the Seattle Mariners will be climbers.

    Kyle Lewis is the reigning AL Rookie of the Year. Former All-Star Mitch Haniger had a decent spring. The rotation features a mix of intriguing veterans like Marco Gonzales and James Paxton as well as youngsters such as Justus Sheffield. Top prospect Jarred Kelenic's arrival could be imminent. The likes of Ty France and Dylan Moore could show out.

    The M's can also flash the leather, with shortstop J.P. Crawford and first baseman Evan White winning Gold Glove Awards in 2020.

    Keep an eye on Seattle.

           

    21. Cincinnati Reds

    If arm talent is what you want, the Cincinnati Reds have it. Luis Castillo is a bona fide ace, and Sonny Gray had a career-best fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark last season. Tyler Mahle and Tejay Antone are a couple of other hurlers to watch. 

    The bats are less appealing. Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas and Jesse Winker are several boppers. It will also be interesting to see how Joey Votto fares as the twilight of his career draws ever nearer. But there is not a whole lot of offensive firepower. Cincy ranked 13th in the NL in runs scored and 22nd in weighted runs created plus (wRC+) in 2020.

             

    20. Kansas City Royals 

    The Kansas City Royals are another team, like the Mariners, that have the feel of an upstart.

    General manager Dayton Moore stayed busy in the offseason by signing veterans like first baseman Carlos Santana and Mike Minor. The core consists of speedsters such as Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi, with Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier boasting slugging upside.

    Longtime catcher Sal Perez is coming off a career season, while Andrew Benintendi will hope to revitalize his career in Kansas City. There are also a slew of interesting arms up and down the staff, especially fireballer Josh Staumont in the bullpen.

    Oh, and Bobby Witt Jr. could make his MLB debut sooner than anticipated.

           

    19. Tampa Bay Rays

    This ranking might not necessarily reflect the Tampa Bay Rays' competitiveness in 2021. They should still fight for a playoff spot even without Blake Snell and Charlie Morton thanks in part to some of the young arms who could make their way through the system.

    However, there is a general absence of star quality. Randy Arozarena might be the front-runner for AL ROY following his breakout October given the tools. Brandon Lowe is a legitimate slugger. Tyler Glasnow has power stuff on the bump. Still, Tampa Bay's most heralded player might be one yet to play his first big-league game in Wander Franco.

    Those who like deep bullpens and appreciate the quirks of Kevin Cash's managerial style will likely have a greater affinity for the Rays.

Nos. 18-15

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    18 Cleveland 

    Cleveland could really fall anywhere in this group. The roster boasts the reigning AL Cy Young in Shane Bieber, who headlines a promising group of arms. Jose Ramirez was last year's runner-up for AL MVP and is a perennial contender for the award.

    That said, offensive production could be lacking. Ramirez, Franmil Reyes and Eddie Rosario should all be legitimate run-producers. But there will be pressure, especially on guys like Jake Bauers and Josh Naylor.

        

    17. Boston Red Sox

    The Boston Red Sox can hit. Boston ranked fifth in the AL in runs scored and third in OPS in 2020 despite a down year from J.D. Martinez, who could get a boost from the return of in-game video usage. Rookie first baseman Bobby Dalbec crushed everything in sight this spring and should be a contender for AL ROY.

    The rotation will be a big question mark. Eduardo Rodriguez is dealing with elbow soreness and could take time to get acclimated in his return from myocarditis. Left-hander Chris Sale is likely out until midsummer as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

          

    16. Chicago Cubs

    The Chicago Cubs have the star power. Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras remain the foundation of the position group. Joc Pederson was excellent in camp and has the chance to be an everyday player, plus Ian Happ is growing into his own as a core piece. Chicago also has excellent defensive talent in Baez, Rizzo and right fielder Jason Heyward.

    Much as is the case with the Red Sox, however, the North Siders' staff is lacking in quality depth. It doesn't help that guys like Kyle Hendricks—perhaps one of the most underrated starters in the game—rely on command rather than velocity and pure stuff.

           

    15. Milwaukee Brewers 

    The Milwaukee Brewers quietly have one of the most dynamic one-two punches at the top of the rotation in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. Their bullpen is elite, with reigning NL Rookie of the Year Devin Williams delivering a bevy of nasty changeups and Josh Hader still retaining his status as one of the best relievers in baseball. Freddy Peralta is another name to track.

    Christian Yelich is as magnetic as any player in baseball when at the top of his game. The Brewers also figure to get elite glove work from Kolten Wong, Lorenzo Cain and Jackie Bradley Jr.

    Can the offense put up enough runs to deliver Milwaukee an NL Central crown? The Brewers ranked just 24th in wRC+ in 2020.

Nos. 14-11

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    14. St. Louis Cardinals

    This is the third straight NL Central team on our list, which is pretty crazy given that this could be one of the lesser divisions in baseball.

    The Nolan Arenado acquisition vaults the Redbirds up in the rankings. Arenado is one of the best defenders in the game and a prolific slugger. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt rakes and plays plus defense at the other corner. Rookie outfielder Dylan Carlson could be a boon to the lineup with his slugging potential. 

    Additionally, St. Louis has live arms in the staff. Jack Flaherty will look to get back on track, with Carlos Martinez also hungry to regain past form. Right-hander Jordan Hicks is absolutely electric when healthy, with Giovanny Gallegos and Andrew Miller possessing wipeout stuff.

        

    13. Oakland Athletics

    Do not be deceived by the small-market Oakland Athletics and their apparent low profile. This team can put up runs in bunches.

    Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are elite defenders who mash. Ramon Laureano and Mark Canha can also slug. Newly acquired shortstop Elvis Andrus can make an impact on the bases, and the left-handed bat of Mitch Moreland could add a vital run-producer to the lineup. Sean Murphy could rapidly ascend as one of the top offensive catchers in baseball. 

    The A's also have some of the more fascinating young arms in the game, including Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Daulton Jefferies. Strikeout arms such as Jake Diekman and Trevor Rosenthal loom at the back end of the bullpen.

         

    12. Los Angeles Angels

    Mike Trout is the best player in the sport. Anthony Rendon is right up there as one of the best in baseball. Shohei Ohtani has generated tons of buzz this spring and could have fans salivating as long as he can remain healthy as a potential two-way star.

    Aside from the stars, youngsters like Jared Walsh and (eventually) Jo Adell have major upside as boppers. David Fletcher and Jose Iglesias play terrific defense up the middle. The staff will be a question mark, but there at least is more depth. That notion also holds true in the bullpen, and the addition of Raisel Iglesias gives the Halos a legitimate closing threat.

    On a separate note: This could be Albert Pujols' final season in the bigs. He will have a limited role, but fans should not forget how much he has meant to the game through the years.

        

    11. Philadelphia Phillies

    The Philadelphia Phillies have ample star power. Bryce Harper naturally draws tons of eyes. All-Star J.T. Realmuto is a pleasure to watch at the plate and behind the dish. Same goes for Aaron Nola on the mound, with Zack Wheeler also boasting excellent stuff. 

    Even Philly's more established veterans are household names. Andrew McCutchen is a former MVP. Jean Segura is a former NL hits leader. Both remain quality players. 

    Rhys Hoskins and Didi Gregorius add some oomph in the lineup. President of baseball operations David Dombrowski could make a move at the deadline. There are plenty of reasons to watch this dark horse in the NL East.

10. Houston Astros

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Houston Astros are still a top draw for multiple reasons. For starters, the roster is loaded with stars.

    Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa remain as talented as any other players at their respective positions. Outfielder Kyle Tucker is blossoming into a star. Michael Brantley's hit tool is mesmerizing with his ability to spray the ball all over the field. Slugger Yordan Alvarez is back in the fold. 

    The rotation has a good mix of talent with Zack Greinke and newcomer Jake Odorizzi. It will be interesting to see how Lance McCullers Jr. performs after signing his extension.

    Moreover—like it or not—plenty of eyes will be on this team because of how polarizing Houston has become in baseball culture. Astros fans will be hoping to get back to the top of the AL West. Fans still seething over the sign-stealing scandal will be yearning to see this group fail. 

    Houston avoided the full brunt of the backlash from said scandal in 2020 when fans were absent from the seats. But they are sure to hear it from fans on the road this time around.

    It could make for terrific theater.

9. Toronto Blue Jays

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Ranking sponsored by: oodles and oodles of young talent.

    The Toronto Blue Jays have a wonderful young core headlined by Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggo and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Both Teoscar Hernandez and Rowdy Tellez provide serious boomstick potential, as does Alejandro Kirk should he eventually take over for Danny Jansen.

    The progression of Toronto's youngsters will help shape the Blue Jays' success in 2021, but the addition of George Springer will also play a major role. Springer will set the tone with his power and on-base ability at the top of the lineup while playing plus defense in center field.

    This team would be even more exciting if there was more rotation depth behind Hyun Jin Ryu. The left-hander will once again anchor the staff, though fans might also keep a watchful eye on top prospect Nate Pearson to see how the team handles him given some durability issues both last summer and during camp.

8. Washington Nationals

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    It all starts with Juan Soto, who is one of the most enthralling young superstars in baseball with his tremendous hit tool and prodigious power to all fields. Shortstop Trea Turner is one of the fastest players in the game, with five-tool potential should he stay fully healthy.

    The Washington Nationals still have as good of a top three in their rotation as any other club with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. The health and production from all three could very well define Washington's contender status.

    Two other guys who will play a vital role in Washington's ability to compete are Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber. Bell was an All-Star in 2019 with 37 homers and 116 RBI before posting a .669 OPS. Schwarber has always been a bit of a swing-and-miss guy, but his batted ball numbers are terrific and he is coming off a strong spring, clubbing four homers with a .973 OPS.

    Do not be surprised if the Nats push the envelope in a challenging NL East.

7. Minnesota Twins

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Too high of a ranking for the Minnesota Twins? I don't think so. 

    Injuries were a big factor last season in limiting an offense that led baseball in home runs in 2019. But there is still an absurdity of slugging potential with the likes of Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano and Josh Donaldson hitting in the middle of the order, though Donaldson's calf could be an issue. Even the toolsy Byron Buxton is finding his home run swing, as evidenced by his mammoth blast on Thursday.

    A lot of the arms in the staff are fun to watch as well. Kenta Maeda looks every bit the AL Cy Young contender after excelling both in at inducing soft contact and generating whiffs. Jose Berrios probably has yet to reach his ceiling. J.A. Happ will be fascinating to see operate in the spacious confines of Target Field.

    The defense should also excel with Andrelton Simmons at shortstop and Buxton in center field. Donaldson is also a standout defender at the hot corner.

    There has been a lot of chatter about the Chicago White Sox as the new toast of the AL Central. But the Twins might have something to say about all that.

6. Chicago White Sox

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Chicago White Sox still get the nod over the Twins in these rankings because of the young talent.

    Tim Anderson is unbelievably charismatic and one of the finest offensive shortstops in the game. Luis Robert can destroy baseballs and flies all over the place in center field. Lucas Giolito is a popular sleeper pick to win the AL Cy Young with his swing-and-miss stuff and year-over-year improvements. Rookie Andrew Vaughn broke camp with the team and will be expected to make up for some of the lost production with Eloy Jimenez (torn pectoral) on the shelf.

    The vets are solid as well. Reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu is as reliable an RBI guy as there is. Yasmani Grandal is still regarded as one of the top backstops in baseball. Lance Lynn gives the South Siders a vital front-line presence in the rotation. 

    Frankly, the relief corps could be the most dominant and watchable group on this team. Tall left-hander Garret Crochet throws gas. Codi Heuer had a 1.52 ERA last season and struck out 14 in 9.2 innings during camp. Of course, dominant right-hander Liam Hendriks awaits hitters at the back end.

    Lastly, it will be fascinating to see how manager Tony La Russa handles this young and hungry group as he returns to the dugout for the first time in a decade.

5. New York Yankees

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    All of the teams in the top five have a legitimate claim to the No. 1 spot. But let's start that countdown with the Bronx Bombers.

    The New York Yankees have arguably the most dangerous lineup in baseball when healthy. DJ LeMahieu sprays the ball all over the field. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton hit towering homers and strike fear into the hearts of opposing hurlers. Gleyber Torres is one of the better young shortstops in the sport, and third baseman Gio Urshela is as underrated as they come on a roster full of big names.

    The Pinstripers come up just short because of the rotation. Gerrit Cole aside, it is anyone's guess as to how this group will perform. Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon are making their returns from injury. It remains to be seen when Luis Severino will be back from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees could be asking a lot of arms like Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia and Domingo German. 

    Perhaps the variability of the rotation actually makes the Yankees all the more intriguing. But the starting group is not quite as talented as those of the teams ranked above them.

4. Atlanta Braves

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Ronald Acuna Jr. could be a 40-40 member by the end of the season. Freddie Freeman is the reigning NL MVP, and Marcell Ozuna led the NL in homers and RBI last season.

    The Atlanta Braves lineup is exceptionally deep. Even possible regression from guys like Travis d'Arnaud will not likely spoil the offensive potential this team has in 2021. Rookie center fielder Cristian Pache will also be a delight to watch with his tremendous defensive ability.

    Atlanta should be all the more awesome to watch because of the rotation mix. Max Fried was an NL Cy Young candidate in 2020. Right-hander Ian Anderson is a leading candidate for NL ROY in 2021. Veteran Charlie Morton could be one of the most important signings of the offseason. Plus, Mike Soroka made a spring start Tuesday and is building back up in his return from an Achilles injury.

    The Braves face a reloaded NL East. But this is a team that came within 12 outs of the World Series last season. Can Atlanta finally get over the hump this time?

3. New York Mets

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The New York Mets have the best pitcher in the game in Jacob deGrom. They made a blockbuster deal to acquire a magnetic talent in Francisco Lindor. That deal that also netted them right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who should be an impact starter once he returns from a hamstring injury. Already armed with one of the top offenses in baseball, this Mets team is primed to contend in the NL East.

    Indeed, the lineup is stacked. All of Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Lindor, Dominic Smith and Michael Conforto can hit the ball out of the yard. McNeil especially has a terrific hit tool. James McCann should be a vast improvement over Wilson Ramos, and Brandon Nimmo had a terrific season in 2020.

    Returning arms will play a key role in the rotation. Marcus Stroman is back with a nasty split-changeup after opting out of the 2020 season. Right-hander Noah Syndergaard will be a key piece whenever he returns from Tommy John, likely by early summer or late spring. Newcomers like right-handed starter Taijuan Walker and reliever Trevor May will also carve out big roles. May joins Edwin Diaz as a tremendous strikeout arm at the back of the bullpen.

    The Yankees have taken up the mantle for New York's baseball teams in the past few years. But the Mets are going to be a lot of fun to watch.

2. San Diego Padres

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The San Diego Padres were already one of the most exciting teams in baseball in 2020. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado bring bolts of electricity with every bat flip and spectacular defensive play. Trent Grisham flies around the bases and plays spectacular defense in center field. The position group is deep and versatile.

    But the addition of the arms makes the Friars all the more dangerous.

    Yu Darvish and Blake Snell are both aces at the top of their games. Darvish was runner-up for the NL Cy Young in 2020, and Snell could thrive with the opportunity to extend himself deeper into ballgames. Joe Musgrove is coming off a strong season in which he ranked in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity and 84th percentile in whiff rate. 

    The young arms will be fascinating to watch as well. Adrian Morejon, MacKenzie Gore and Ryan Weathers could all make starts or come out of the bullpen. Do not forget about Dinelson Lamet, either.

    Can the Padres really make good on all the promise and offseason moves to take down the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West? It will be one of the top stories of the season.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Maybe the Padres are the more "darling" types to viewers as a smaller media market hoping to dethrone the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

    But ultimately, the Dodgers are the most balanced team in baseball.

    Los Angeles ranked first in runs and tied for first in OPS+ with San Diego in 2020 after ranking in the top five in both categories in 2019. The lineup has pop from both sides of the batter's box. Nearly all of L.A.'s stars are capable of working deep counts and consistently finding ways to get on base and manufacture runs.

    The Dodgers staff is every bit as talented. Walker Buehler should win a Cy Young someday. Clayton Kershaw has already won three and is still performing at a high level. Love him or hate him, reigning NL Cy Young Trevor Bauer brings a lot of personality and arrogance. Dustin May has the curly red hair and throws absolute gas. Julio Urias continues to grow into his own after a dominant set of performances in the World Series.

    Los Angeles' rotation is so good that guys like David Price and Tony Gonsolin might come into the game as relievers. That bullpen could be all the more impressive if Blake Treinen has the same kind of stuff he showed in camp and Kenley Jansen rediscovers his past All-Star form. 

    The Dodgers also set things in motion on the bases and play defense at a high level. Mookie Betts in particular really does both of those things as well as anyone in baseball. 

    Los Angeles is not just good. This is a potentially dominant team that has star talent and personality. The Dodgers simply do everything well.

            

    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, FanGraphs or Baseball Savant, unless otherwise noted.