Something on this list will be right. I just don't know what it is. Actually, yes I do... KE'BRYAN FREAKING HAYES. Alright, predictions:
Let’s start with the most popular division in my home state. I'd feel better about the Astros prediction if someone would actually put a timetable on Framber Valdez’s return and if Ryan Pressly would have appeared in something other than ‘B’ field Spring Training games the last couple weeks. Even with the uncertainty of Valdez, this is an organization that has proven it can find and develop pitching depth. It wasn’t that long ago only diehards knew about Jose Urquidy, Valdez and Crisitian Javier. Offensively, Yordan Alvarez already having the knees of an 80-year-old frightens me, but this is one of the stronger lineups in baseball one through seven with a good blend of contact, power, speed.
Under a new general manager, the Angels didn’t land a huge name to bolster the starting rotation. But they did add much-needed depth, a legitimate closer and a defensive wizard at shortstop. There isn’t a bigger wildcard in baseball than Shohei Ohtani, who smashed homers during Spring Training and at times looked unbelievably dominant on the mound. How will the Angels use him and can he stay healthy? An underrated aspect of the Angels offseason: they changed the shape of their bullpen by adding a lot of different arm angles and stuff profiles.
Probably a tad silly of me to put the A’s behind the Angels. Quietly, the A’s zigged where others zagged and loaded up on quality bullpen arms. I’m skeptical of the health profile of its rotation and Oakland’s offense is solid but definitely isn’t close to elite. Everyone fairly discusses and is excited about Jesus Luzardo, but Sean Manaea, who was throwing noticeably harder in Spring Training, could be the key to the puzzle.
They’re not going to arrive yet, but the Mariners are on the verge of being a legitimate division contender. Yusei Kikuchi should top any list about starting pitcher sleepers; Mitch Haniger is back; Ty France was Babe Ruth during Spring Training; Kyle Lewis enjoyed his breakout last season and the rotation is intriguing. On the way: top pitching prospects George Kirby and Logan Gilbert and outfielder Jarred Kelenic, who is going to mash once he arrives.
The Rangers… yeah. I really, really like Nick Solak. That’s about it.
The Eloy Jimenez injury and the backend of Chicago’s rotation pushed Minnesota ahead. Plus, is the Tony La Russa thing going to work or is it going to blow up in Chicago? I’m going to guess many of you can’t name Cleveland’s center fielder, who is also projected to hit leadoff against right-handers. The middle of the Cleveland lineup is legit, and I like Josh Naylor’s hitting talent a lot. There might not be a better organization in baseball at developing starting pitching. But it simply won’t score enough.
Kansas City is a darkhorse playoff team. Adding Carlos Santana gave the Royals the middle-of-the-order on-base bat they desperately needed and while you probably don’t know who plays in right and center field, the lineup could be decent if Adalberto Mondesi stays healthy and Andrew Benintendi bounces back. Big ‘ifs,’ I know. On the pitching side, I’m all-in on Brady Singer, Brad Keller is an underrated starter, Mike Minor was throwing harder in Spring Training than he has in years, and there are a lot of really talented arms about to break through like Kris Bubic, Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch.
We might find out this year if former No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize is going to make it or not. His debut in 2020 was extremely underwhelming and so was Spring Training. I just don’t know if he’s ever going to consistently throw quality strikes.
It’s quite possible the top four teams in this division are separated by like eight games, and I could see any four winning the division, although the top two are definitely more likely. I loved what the Rays did this offseason loading up on cheap starters with quality stuff. Wouldn’t surprise me to see them let those guys do their thing for 4-5 innings and then follow with either another SP-type of their bullpen. Keep an eye on Michael Wacha.
The Yankees’ pitching staff leads Major League Baseball in surgery scars and will need three guys who haven’t thrown full seasons since 2018 or 2017 to carry the load. Deivi Garcia waiting in the wings should help. The Yankees are going to mash, but it’s a little odd Aaron Judge missed a some games to end the spring. Can those big bats stay healthy?
Boston’s rotation was so bad last season that adding the likes of Nick Pivetta, and Garrett Richards represented a major upgrade. But the most important piece is Eduardo Rodriguez, who is dealing with “dead arm” currently after having his 2020 wrecked by COVID-19 and myocarditis. Wisely, Boston added a bunch of established, versatile big leaguers with a track record of winning, which should allow Boston to maximize its lineup each game. If you play DFS, you’ll want to put Franchy Cordero in the lineup against righties.
Toronto had a fantastic offseason and could have the best lineup in baseball. But its current rotation includes Ross Stripling, Steven Matz, Tanner Roark and Anthony Kay while Robbie Ray will soon join and Nate Pearson, who is looking more and more like a possible reliever, is again hurt. If the Blue Jays are going to win a lot of games, they’ll need to do it by outscoring everyone.
There is no chance you can name Baltimore’s rotation.
The best team in baseball added Trevor Bauer and is set to unleash top prospect Gavin Lux. But the guy I’m most excited about? Dustin May, who won the fifth spot in the rotation and quietly changed his curveball last season. With a harder breaking ball, May began to rack up more swings and misses and is poised for a huge season.
Slam Diego added Blake Snell and Yu Darvish and bolstered its bullpen. The Padres are going to be really, really good and have impressive position player depth. But they could be forced to bring MacKenzie Gore to the big leagues soon if Chris Paddack’s command and disastrous fastball don’t improve significantly. Everyone’s popular breakout pick, Joe Musgrove, has thrown close to a full season just once in his career and really, really needs his average fastball velocity to hover around 94 MPH or better.
I can’t stand Gape Kapler, but the Giants quietly improved their roster and have some young talent on the rise. Arizona had an awful 2020 and Ketel Marte is a sneaky MVP candidate after a wrist injury zapped all his power last season. However, the injury to Zac Gallen makes an already shaky rotation even shakier; Arizona’s No. 2 pitcher is coming off Thoracic Outlet surgery and its No. 1 couldn’t break 90 MPH most of last season.
The Rockies are, without doubt, the most poorly operated organization in professional baseball.
The Cardinals were the only team that apparently wanted to truly improve this offseason and they needed a gift from the Rockies to do it. Like the AL East but in a more depressing, less competitive way, the top four teams in this division could be separated by just a few games. A few players I’m really excited about from this division: Reds outfielder Nick Senzel; Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill (made enormous improvement cutting down on strikeouts); Brewers starting pitcher Freddy Peralta; Cubs starting pitcher Adbert Alzolay; Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. I say this with a full heart and even fuller conviction: Hayes is poised to quickly become one the best all-around position players in the game. He is special, and under Ben Cherington, the Pirates are moving in the right direction with their current roster and future ones.
Carlos Carrasco’s injury and the Braves’ pitching depth served as a tiebreaker for this one. You might laugh, but putting the Marlins fifth wasn’t easy. They could have one of the best rotations in baseball, and if you haven’t heard the name Trevor Rogers, you’ll soon learn it. I think the shakiest team on this list is Washington. Patrick Corbin’s fastball velocity is still missing; Max Scherzer is entering his age 37 season; Stephen Strasburg missed last season and has looked shaky in the spring; Kyle Schwarber is going to have to play defense and Starlin Castro and Josh Harrison are currently starters.
WILD CARD TEAMS: Padres, Mets; Yankees, Angels
ALCS: Yankees over Astros
NLCS: Dodgers over Mets
WORLD SERIES: Dodgers over Yankees
I really don't feel much conviction in the Yankees pick, and that's not the Boston fan in me screaming internally. The American League is wide open and lacks an elite team.
NL MVP: Mookie Betts
AL MVP: Mike Trout
I'm waving from my limb. See me way out there?
NL MVP candidates: Jacob deGrom, Corey Seager, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis, Jr., Francisco Lindor
AL MVP candidates: Jose Ramirez, Xander Bogaerts, Anthony Rendon, Shane Bieber, Carlos Correa
No real surprises on this list besides maybe Correa, who I think is motivated to have an elite year heading into free agency and might actually stay healthy for a change.
AL Cy Young: Shane Bieber
NL Cy Young: deGrom
NL breakout pitchers: Dustin May, Sandy Alcantara
AL breakout pitchers: Brady Singer, Yusei Kikuchi
After digging below the surface, I couldn't be more all-in on May thanks to his harder curve last season and the No. 5 job in the Dodgers rotation. Alcantara showed major breakout upside to end last season and so did Singer during his final month when his schedule wasn't insane. As for Kikuchi, the stuff is big-time and the numbers suggested he was much better than his ERA.
NL breakout position players: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Nick Senzel, Gavin Lux
AL breakout position players: Nick Solak, Ryan Mountcastle, Jarred Kelenic
Senzel and Lux used to be megaprospects and they're poised to remind everyone. Hayes might end up on the MVP list by season's end. I'm not kidding. I've always been a fan of Solak and Kelenic is a great bet to be maybe the best bat in Seattle's lineup once he arrives.