MLB Pre-Season Preview and Power Rankings 15-11 (Dark Horse Teams)

15.Baltimore Orioles

Preview- The Orioles have made the playoffs in two of the last three years, but have fallen in the division round both times. Their lineup has been the reason they have had success. They have finished in the top 10 in runs scored the last two years. That has a lot to do with the emergence of Adam Jones, who in the last three years, has been a top 10 outfielder, showing 30+ homerun power with a BA around .290. Besides Jones, the O’s have 1B Chris Davis, C Matt Wieters, 3B Manny Machado, SS JJ Hardy, OF Alenjandro De Aza, and DH Steve Pearce. They lost OF Nelson Cruz in the off season, but it is reasonable to expect a bounce back year from Chris Davis, which would make up for the loss of Cruz. Machado has had his own issues the last couple of years, but is young, and very talented. If he could get his head together, he could still become a top 3B in the league. After that, both Pearce and De Aza really had nice seasons for the O’s last year, with De Aza coming over at the trade deadline and putting together a great second half.

The concern for this team is going to be pitching. They don’t have a bad pitching rotation, in fact, they finished top 10 in team ERA last year. The issue is the lack of an ace. When they get to the playoffs, they don’t have that go to guy to match up against the other team, and it has cost them. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yen Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez are all decent pitchers, but if they are matched up against an ace like David Price, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, or Corey Kluber in the post season, whom are you going to take to pitch better? The O’s are a talented team, and should once again push for a playoff spot, but if they want to win, they need an ace.

Player to Watch- SP Kevin Gausman – Luckily, they may have that ace. Kevin Gausman was very good for them in his 20 starts last year, and has the potential to be even better. He could be the true, top of the rotation pitcher, they need to win a playoff series.

  1. San Diego Padres

Preview- The Padres surprised everyone this season by wheeling and dealing to bring in a lot of talent to their team. They made a deal with the Dodgers to bring in OF Matt kemp. Switched a couple prospects to the Braves to acquire OF Justin Upton. They got OF Wil Myers back from the Rays in a three team 11 player deal, and signed James Shields in free agency. All of the moves are upgrades on paper, but there is definitely concern of whether these players will fit in with the Padres. Wil Myers struggled to hit last year in Tropicana Field last year. The Trop is deep to center, but still ranks around the middle of ball parks as far as the home run factor. Now he moves to probably the toughest ball park to hit home runs in, PETCO Park. It’s the same issue with Justin Upton, though the move from Turner Field to PETCO isn’t quite as big of a difference. Matt Kemp is in the same boat as Upton, as his former ballpark, Dodger Stadium, was already a tough hitter’s park, but the concern for him is always health. Other hitters on this team include 2B Jedd Gyorko and C Derick Norris. The lineup has talent, but it will be tough for a team of power hitters like they have to find success in this ballpark, and they may have been better off going after hitters who can play small ball

James Shields on the other hand, should have no trouble fitting in. In a ballpark where even a mediocre pitcher can look good, a pitcher like Shields should have no trouble getting outs. The rest of their rotation isn’t bad either. Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, and Tyson Ross are all good pitchers, with the wildcard being Brandon Morrow. The Padres should at least push for a playoff spot, but despite the additions, they still have some concerns.

Player to Watch- OF Wil Myers- The former rookie of the year has yet to find his power stroke, and PETCO won’t help that. He has the raw power to hit here though, he just needs to tap into it.

  1. Chicago Cubs

Preview- The Cubs may have the youngest lineup with the most potential in baseball. With hitters like 3B Kris Bryant, OF Jorge Soler, 2B Javier Baez, SS Starlin Castro, 1B Anthony Rizzo, and eventually SS Addison Russell, if they can find the space for him. The future is very bright for the Cubs.  They also have a handful of talented veterans in OF Chris Coghlan, OF Dexter Fowler, and C Miguel Montero. Even after the group of prospects above, their farm system is still very good, with several other prospects having a chance to be good players in the MLB when they ae promoted.

Their pitching is also good, though could use some improvement. They signed Jon Lester in the offseason, which gives them an elite pitcher at the top of their rotation. After that, they have a handful of successful, though underwhelming, pitchers in Jake Arietta, Jason Hammel, and Kyle Hendricks. Three pitchers who are good, especially for middle of the rotation pitchers, but are not going to overpower opposing hitters. Their fifth pitcher though is Travis Wood, who had an ERA over 5 last year. That is the one place on this team they can stand to upgrade. With a stocked farm system, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Cubs traded for a starting pitcher at mid-season, Maybe Cole Hamels. If not, they may wait until the offseason, and go after a free agent like Jordan Zimmerman. They also secretly have a very good bullpen. As a unit, the bullpen’s ERA was 3.61, good for 15th in the majors. The strength of the bullpen is the back end though, where Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and Neil Ramirez all had an ERA under 2.5. Remember, the Royals got to the World Series with a lot of help from their talented, young, bullpen.

Player to Watch- Everyone- Seriously, pick a name and they are a candidate for a breakout year. Theo Epstein has turned this team around, and Cubs fans should be very excited. It might not be this year, but with a little luck, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they made a push this year.

  1. Miami Marlins

Preview– The Marlins made a lot of moves in the off season, but I am not as high on them as some other people are. Are they a good team? Yes, they are, but not World Series contenders like some analysts like to predict. A lot of their off season acquisitions are being over rated by the media. Dee Gordon might be fast, but he has a terrible approach for a leadoff hitter. Someone with his speed should be getting better than a .320 OBP, and should be making more contact, not striking out over 100 times. He will help, but his talents are being exaggerated after a fluky first half where he hit over .300. SP Mat Latos also came to Miami, and while he is talented, he has had an abundance of health concerns the last year and a half, and it has affected his ability. After missing about two months last year, he came back with his velocity down over 2 mph, and his strikeout rate fell from 8.4 in the prior years to just 6.5. While you could say that was just him being rusty and shaking off the injury, his injury issues carried into the offseason as well. While he should be a good pitcher still, there is no reason to think he will magically get better and be an ace again. People also talk about the acquisition of SP Dan Haren as if it is something special, but his ERA over the past three seasons is around 4.3, so he isn’t much more than a fifth starter.

So why do I have them at 12 if I don’t like their off season? Because the rest of their team was already good. OF Giancarlo Stanton has more power than anyone in the majors. He can hit over 40 homeruns even playing in a spacious ball park. They also have OF Christian Yelich, who is a star in the making. Jose Fernandez is an ace, but he will miss some time recovering from Tommy Johns still. Henderson Alvarez is a decent pitcher as well, though he isn’t the type to overpower hitters. Their time may come, but let’s not jump the gun on this team.

Player to Watch- OF Marcell Ozuna- Has shown the power, but not the consistency. With a deeper lineup, he should get a chance to break out this year, and really show his talent.

  1. Chicago White Sox

Preview- While everyone is talking about the Marlins and Cubs as the dark horse team this year, people are overlooking the team on the South side of Chicago. Maybe the Cubs have a brighter future than the Sox, but the White Sox are more ready to win right now.

Starting with the reigning Rookie of the Year, Jose Abreu is potentially the best first basemen in baseball right now, and seems to be improving. Scouts once thought he would merely be a power hitter, he proved to be a good, overall hitter, showing both power and the ability to hit for average. They also have Alexei Ramirez, who is one of the best hitting shortstops in the league. They have OF Melky Cabrera, who continues to be a talented all around hitter even though he has been on five different teams in the past six years. They added Adam LaRoche as well, who should be able to put together a very good year in the hitter friendly confines of US Cellular Field. Their pitching is good as well. Chris Sale is a top 10 pitcher in the league, and while there was some injury concerns coming into spring training, he seems to be in mid-season form. The addition of Jeff Samardzija gives them a second ace at the top of their rotation. After them, they have another solid pitcher in Jose Quintana, who posted a 3.32 ERA, with over 170 K’s. The back end of their rotation leaves something to be desired though. John Danks and Hector Noesi both posted ERA’s over 4.5 last year. Noesi still has a chance to improve as a pitcher, but what they got last year from Danks will probably be what they get this year. Their bullpen is good though, with only one of their bullpen arms posting an ERA over 3 last year. The addition of David Robertson as closer will be a huge boost. They are the dark horse team that no one is talking about.

Player to Watch- OF Adam Eaton- We know how good Abreu is, but another up and coming player on the Sox, is Eaton. He can be a great leadoff hitter if he can stay healthy, that’s a big if though. He has missed a lot of time in his short career.

What MLB Teams Would Look Like If Players Stayed Home (AL East)

Check out the NBA version of this here at elitedaily.com

New York Yankees

yankees depth chart

 

The Yankee fans would have still gotten to enjoy the careers of Jeter and A Rod, but I seriously doubt they would have 27 world series rings if they had to pick all their players from their own area. Whether you think it is a good thing or not, you cannot deny the Yankees have built their team throughout the years off of free agency. Corbin is a good pitcher, and they have a decent enough outfield, but they wouldn’t be the powerhouse they normally are. The Al East would be tough, and the Yanks may not be able to keep up

 

Boston Red Sox

red sox depth chart

 

 

The Red sox would have two of the most promising young players in the league, and not too much after that. Harvey and Springer are team cornerstones, but their infield is weak. Pollock and Davis are productive players, but in the end they may just not have enough firepower. Fortunately, they wont need much fire power with Harvey on the mound. 3 runs will be good enough for a win when he is pitching. having Harvey may be just enough to put them over their rivals the Yankees.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

bluejays depth chart

 

It is easy to tell what type of team this would be, as we have already seen them at a pro level. It is a very similar team to the one that took the field for Canada in the World Baseball Classic in 2013. Canada failed to get out of the group stage tht year, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they also failed to make the playoffs in the MLB. Weak pitching and a lack of power would make it hard for them to find wins. their outfield is their weakest area. They would have a better chance then they did in the WBC, but it would still be tough.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

rays depth chrt

 

*It should be spelled McCutchen, not Mcutchen*

 

The Rays are usually one of the strongest teams each year, and they would be even more so in this league. Sale is one of the most dominate pitchers in the league, and Rizzo and Gordon are both enjoying huge breakout years. After that they have Desmond, and of course reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen. Add is Lucroy, and this team looks more like an All Star team. Dom Brown would be a major weak point, but no lineup is perfect. They would be the favorite to win their division, and they would have a cross country rivalry with the Angels to see who ends up on top.

Baltimore Orioles

O's depth chart

 

One of my most vocal opinions is my disdain for the Upton brothers. It may be because they are both on my favorite teams rival the Braves, but I hated them before that. it is probably because they are so talented, yet consistently fail to met their hype, especially BJ. Still, in a league lacking forign talent, they would be among the best players in the league, Provided BJ doesn’t play like he has with the Braves. David Wright, and Mark Teixera are two other strong components to this team, add in Mat Latos and the O’s are a team that could makes some noise.

 

Tomorrow we finish up in the NL East

MLB Preseason Rankings 20-11

20. Seattle Mariners- The Mariners may have made the biggest splash of the off season in acquiring 2B Robinson Cano, but that doesn’t mean they are a good team. Their rotation will no doubt be good with the likes of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma at the helm, and coveted prospect Taijuan Walker ready to prove why he is so highly regarded. Their lineup leaves a lot to be desired though, and may struggle to produce.

19. Milwaukee Brewers- Brewers are another team who could raise or fall a lot in these rankings over the year. Their lineup, at least on paper, is good. Ryan Braun is a star, steroids or not, and Carlos Gomez is no slouch himself.  My concern is their rotation, which could be good, but could also be a disaster. It is full of guys like Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo, and Kyle Lohse. The types of pitchers who can at times be filthy, but at time be disastrous. All Brewers cans can hope for is that all the stars align, and these guys lean more toward the filthy side.

18. LA Angels – I am really concerned with this lineup after the departure of Mark Trumbo. Sure, Mike Trout is still one of the best hitters out there, but after that what do you have? A declining Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, one-year wonder David Freese, and the consistently decent Erick Aybar and Howard Kendrick. Not a bad lineup, but it certainly isn’t as scary as it should be. The rotation is ok, Jared Weaver is over rated, but is still a good pitcher, same with C.J. Wilson. Hector Santiago is a good, but I don’t think he replaces the value they lost in Trumbo.

17.San Francisco Giants- The Giants are hard to place. Every time I start to believe in them, they fall apart, but then as I push them to the side they start playing good again. Tim Lincecum will never be the same, but he is still serviceable. Matt Cain can’t do any worse than last year. The real prize of this team is Madison Bumgarner though, the best pitcher nobody talks about. I don’t think they will win anything this year, but I said the same thing the two years they won the World Series.

16. Cleveland Indians – For the life of me I cant figure out why the Indians were so good last year. Everything about them is decent, but no one on this team jumps out at me. Their hitting is ok, but it could be much better. They have one very talented pitcher in Justin Masterson, but no one else is too impressive in this rotation. This was just a team that went out last year, and did their job.

15. Arizona Diamondbacks- The Diamondbacks made a great move in acquiring Mark Trumbo, who should make a great pairing with the very talented Paul Goldschmidt. Their lineup should be lethal this year, and so should their bullpen with the addition of Closer Addison Reed. Unfortunately, they failed to acquire the ace they needed in the off season. To make matters worse, SP Patrick Corbin looks to be sidelined for the season. This will put a stop to their hopes for this season, but their future is looking good.

14. Kansas City Royals – Every off season has a new bandwagon. A new team everyone predicts is going to have a breakout year.While I like the Royals, I am not as in love with them as every other baseball analyst seems to be. I have yet to see anything too impressive from once touted prospects Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Perez. They all seem to be decent MLB players, but as of now, I would say they were a little over hyped.  They have a good team, and can definitely compete, but they aren’t as much of a sleeper everyone makes them out to be.

13. Baltimore Orioles – The team I really like to compete this year is the Orioles. They are my Kansas City Royals. Unlike the Royals, they have established stars. Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Nelson Cruz, and Nick Markakis this lineup will score runs. I also love the very undervalued trade for David Lough. Pitching is a concern, but even that improved this off season. Ubaldo Jiminez is a nice acquisition, and they have a few pitching prospects that are ready to produce. They are at a disadvantage because of their division, but they should at least make it a competition and not just roll over.

12. Cincinnati Reds – The Reds are a team I really thought were going to go somewhere a few years ago in Joey Votto’s MVP season. So far, they haven’t done much. They are a good team that will be in it to the end, but they have shown me nothing the last two years for me to see them as World Series winners. Maybe if Cueto stays healthy, and Brandon Phillips finds a fountain of youth, but I just don’t see it right now. They will contend for one of those wildcard spots, but not much more than that.

11. Pittsburgh Pirates- Another team I just don’t understand. I understand them a little more than the Indians, they do have a couple legit stars in Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, along with the promising Starling Marte, but their team in general isn’t as impressive as their play indicates. It goes to show, sometimes hard work and heart can do wonders, we just saw the Red Sox win off it. Pirates will compete, but I don’t think they are good enough yet to make a World Series.

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*UPDATE: ORIOLES DEAL WITH BALFOUR “Will not come together”

Grant Balfour

Grant Balfour (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Orioles GM Dan Duquette has said he doesn’t think the deal with Balfour is going to happen. He said to reporters of the Baltimore Sun that the deal “will not come together” and that they “we’re going to turn their attention elsewhere.”

Duquette said the door is still open for a deal, but it is highly unlikely. Orioles have been fickle in the past when it comes to pitcher with shoulder issues, so the Orioles concerns over the shoulder surgery Balfour got back in 2005. He hasn’t had any shoulder issues since then, but if the orioles saw even the slightest issue with the shoulder, it could have been enough to scare them out of a deal.

They are expected to now pursue free agent closer Fernando Rodney. Rodney pitched to a 3.38 ERA last year, and closed the door on 38 saves, while blowing 8 saves.

Balfour hits the free agent market once again. He had a 2.59 ERA last year, and saved 38 games.

With this update, the Orioles grade from the previous article has been downgraded to a C+. If they do sign Rodney, it goes back up to a B+.

Stayed tuned as we follow this story line.

Major League Off Season Report Card (Orioles)

*DEAL WITH BALFOUR HAS OFFICIALLY FALLEN THROUGH*

Moves so far

Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Traded 3B Danny Valencia to Royals for OF David Lough
  • Traded Closer Jim Johnson to Athletics for 2B Jemile Weeks
  • Signed RP Ryan Webb to 2 year deal for $4.5 million
  • Signed Closer Grant Balfour to 2 year deal for $14 million (Deal Reportedly in Jeopardy)

Rumor Mill

  • There was a problem with the physical that may nullify the Balfour deal
    • There seems to be an issue with his shoulder
  • Orioles are interested in 1B/DH Kendrys Morales

Orioles will never be big spenders, but with a group of promising young players, they have found a way to be competitive in the AL East under manager Buck Showalter. Their biggest issue has been starting pitching.

So far, they have failed to address that, but unless the Balfour deal does indeed fall apart they have managed to improve in other areas.

Ryan Webb is one of the better non closer relievers in the game. This move stabilizes the middle of their bullpen.

The trade for David Lough may quietly be one of the best trades of the off season. One unnamed American League general manager said this about the deal “he can do everything that Nate McLouth does. He might end up being an even better hitter than McLouth.”

Lough is a sneaky good player. Isn’t flashy, he won’t put up huge numbers, but he is the type of scrappy, all-around player that can be the final piece to a very good lineup.

The Jim Johnson deal was a dud at first, they didn’t get much back, and it was more or less a salary dump. After they signed Balfour, it looked like it was going to be a win, Balfour is an upgrade over Johnson. If the Balfour deal falls apart though trading Johnson could be a disaster, unless they can find someone else to step into the closer role.

The O’s get a B+ if the Balfour deal stands. If the deal collapses, it will be dropped to a C+.

When there is news, this will be updated.

Next team up is the Rays.