Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Three MLB Clubs Poised to Break Out in 2020
The long winter months are beginning to show signs of thaw, as football season recedes into the background and pitchers and catchers report to their respective camps in Arizona and Florida. In spite of an MLB offseason highlighted more for scandal than hot stove action, the vast majority of marquee free agents are off the board as we head into spring training. We have a pretty good idea of the likely contenders in both leagues, and which clubs have a good chance of hanging out in the cellar come August.
While the Yankees, Twins, Astros, Dodgers, Nats, and Braves of the world have a good chance of being right back in the thick of the postseason chase, several clubs that have been lying low, saving on payroll and stock piling young talent are poised to make their move in 2020.
Here are my top three clubs primed to make major leaps from the doldrums to the pennant race this season:
1. Cincinnati Reds (2019 Record: 75-87, 4th in NL Central)
Following four consecutive 90+ loss, last-place finishes, the Reds began to show a little bit of life in 2019, albeit still ending 16 games out of first place. Eugenio Suarez was obviously the big story, finishing second in the majors with 49 home runs and establishing himself as a true superstar by posting his third consecutive 25+ homer season and second of 30 or more. Along with Suarez, the Reds offense saw the emergence of former first round outfielders Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel, both entering their prime years and under team control for several years to come.
Toss in the big time free agent additions of Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos, along with a collection of pitching additions that has gradually turned the Cincinnati pitching staff from an atrocity to a respectable group and you have the makings of a club that could be within striking distance in the highly competitive NL Central. While the Cardinals may be the early favorites in the division, the Cubs and Brewers may take steps back in 2020, leaving the door open for the Red Legs to make their move back to contention.
2. Chicago White Sox (2019 Record: 72-89, 3rd in AL Central)
The very same factors that allowed the South Siders to somehow finish in third place in 2019 in spite of a near 90-loss season will be the same factors that allow them to make their move in 2020. The AL Central will still be Minnesota's to lose, but the Indians' window appears to have closed, and the Royals and Tigers will likely still be dumpster fires this season as they follow the tanking protocol.
The same protocol, coincidentally, that the White Sox have been following for quite some time, coming off their seventh straight losing campaign. It appears the club is now ready to win games again, setting themselves apart as one of the busiest teams this offseason. They already had a major stock pile of former high draft pick starting pitchers in Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon, Carson Fulmer, and Michael Kopech.
Toss in the additions of veteran left-handers Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez, along with the offensive acquisitions of Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, and Nomar Mazara to go along with proven stars like Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada, and the White Sox certainly look to have some star power in the upcoming season.
3. San Diego Padres (2019 Record: 70-92, 5th in NL West)
Of the three teams listed here, the Padres will certainly have the toughest time within their division. It's been 13 seasons since the Friars have captured an NL West crown, and their prospects look dim once again this season with the likelihood of yet another 100-win campaign from the Dodgers as an all but foregone conclusion. That said, the Giants are unlikely to make any push for the playoffs, the Rockies are the Rockies and the Padres look to have a puncher's chance at beating out the Diamondbacks for second place and a potential wild card bid.
The Pads are another team that's lost 90 or more games in four straight years, but they've been building one of baseball's most elite farm systems all along and appear ready to strike in 2020. They've added Drew Pomerantz and Emilio Pagan to an elite bullpen that already boasts Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen, and Eric Hosmer, Fernando Tatis, Jr., and Manny Machado give them a formidable infield. Long time stalwart Will Myers will be joined by spark plug Tommy Pham in the outfield, giving San Diego multiple big name position players across the diamond.
Starting pitching is the one potential area of weakness for this club, with the starting rotation currently led by returning youngsters Joey Lucchesi and Chris Paddock, along with former Milwaukee Brewer Zach Davies, a proven starter who is still just 27-years-old. If they're in contention at the break, look for San Diego to swap one of their blue chip pieces for a front line arm midseason.
Could each of these punchy underdog up and comers fall flat on their faces in 2020, as their respective histories suggest? They sure could. But I for one am always a fan of seeing some fresh pennant contenders, and reinvigorated fan bases come September.