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 West)

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

Cleveland Indians

Indians depth chart

 

Unlike the teams in the west, the central teams do not have an abundance of talent that is homegrown. At least in the Indians case though, they were able to have a team of Major Leagues players. There may not be a single all star worthy player on the team, but there is at least some potenital there, and they were able to have pretty much all teams actually from their area. Indians wouldn’t be a good team, but they wouldnt be the worse team either.

Kansas City Royals

Royals depth chart

 

While still not a great team, the Royals at least have a team with star players, including their staff ace Cliff Lee, and DH Matt Holiday. Other than those two, Morrison has always had the potential to be a star player, but hasn’t put it together, and Derek Norris is enjoying an all star year. Of the five teams in the Al Central, the Indians are the strongest on paper, and would be the favorites to win the division. I’m not sure if they could beat the Angels once they reached the playoffs though.

Minnesota Twins

twins depth chart

 

The twins are in the same place as the Indians are. Their team is full of major league role players. The difference between the two teams may be Alex Gordon, as he gives the Twins something the Indians don’t have, which is a star player. The staff ace Josh Johnson was once an elite pitcher before having his career derailed by injuries. Ike Davis and Jason Kubel could make more a nice pair of corner outfielders, but Davis has failed to live up to his potential, and Kubel isn’t a young player anymore. Overall, they are an OK team, but would be nothing special.

Chicago White Sox

whitesox depth chart

 

The White Sox suffer from the fact they do not only share a state with another team, but they share a city. This in a state that doesn’t have an abundance of baseball stars growing up in. So after the players from Illinois are split between the Cubs and Whitesox, the two teams had to take the scraps from the other teams regions. They still managed to get a respectable team given the situation. Kipnis and Werth are both talented players, and Lind and Thole both have always had the potential to be stars.

 

Detroit Tigers

tigers depth chart

 

Creating the Tigers team I ran into a few issues. One, Michigan doesn’t isn’t a big baseball state, meaning there weren’t many players to chose from. Secondly, every bordering state has a team of its own, meaning they have a really don’t have a second state to add to their pool of players like others. In the end, they were settling for the scraps left by the other teams looking for scraps in other states. With a team filled with some players average baseball fans have never even heard of, the Tigers may have come out being the worst team in this hypothetical MLB.

 

Tomorrow we look at the NL Central

Preseason MLB Rankings 30-21

30. Houston Astros – Right now, the Astros main goal should be to just see what some of their young guys can do. Bring OF George Springer and 1B Jonathan Singleton up at some point, let them get their at bats. Another decent goal would be to not finish with the worst MLB record this year, as they did the last two years

29. Chicago Cubs- Like the Astros, the Cubs are in the middle of a rebuilding process. Expect to see 2B prospect Javier Baez, who so far in Spring Training has showed amazing power, get a chance this year. Cubs best hope is for Baez to come up, and for SS Starlin Castro and 1B Anthony Rizzo to live up to their potential.

28. Philadelphia Phillies- Unlike the previous two teams, the Phillies are not in the middle of a rebuild process. Instead of throwing in the towel, GM Ruben Amaro decided to double down this off season and add multiple again Veterans on short deal in an attempt to squeeze every win out of the aging Phillies Core that they. Phillies do have a couple prospects to look forward to this year though in 3B Maikel Franco and SP Jesse Biddle, but their prospects of winning this year do not look very bright.

27. Minnesota Twins- The Twins have Joe Mauer, and that is about it. They have a couple decent players after that, but none worth mentioning. Their rotation is frightening, but not in a good way. Opposing lineups are probably excited at the prospects of going up against the likes of starting pitchers Phil Hughes, Vance Worley, and Mike Pelfrey in consecutive days. The Twins do have one of the best farm systems though, and should be able to bounce back soon should prospects like Miguel Sano turn out.

26. Colorado Rockies – As always, the combo of OF Carlos Gonzalez and SS troy Tulowitzki will keep them from being embarrassing, but their rotation is still going to hold them back. They added SP Jordan Lyles, because we all know how well fly able pitchers do in Coors Field. Brett Anderson could be a decent add, but he will have to stay healthy to be so, and even if there are now doubts if he can reclaim he form from back in Oakland. They may not be the worst team in the MLB, but I just can’t see them competing, or even improving this year.

25. Miami Marlins- The Marlins might have one of the more promising young rotations in baseball. Jose Fernandez showed in his rookie year that he could be a legitimate ace. Behind him, are a hand full of other young pitchers with a lot of upside, including former Tigers prospect Jacob Turner. The issue is still their lineup though. While improved, it still should end up as one of the worst in the league. Giancarlo Stanton is still one of the most powerful hitters in the league, and OF Christian Yellich has a lot of potential, but besides that, there isn’t much. Garret Jones and Casey McGhee are ok, but they aren’t going to make a huge difference. Marlins still have a long way to go.

24. San Diego Padres – The Padres are the first team on this list I can see as a Dark Horse candidate. I don’t think it is likely, but they do have some nice pieces. 2B Jed Gyorko, SS Everth Cabrera, and 1B Yonder Alonso all have the potential to be great MLB players. They still just don’t have that star piece though, and there is serious evidence behind the idea teams with bigger ballparks aren’t as competitive. They could be good and compete for a spot, but I don’t think it is going to happen yet.

23. NY Mets- The Mets may have a very bright future. If the Marlins may have one of the best young rotations, the Mets do have the best. Even with SP Matt Harvey on the shelf for a year after getting Tommy Johns surgery, the Mets still have Zack Wheeler, SP Jon Niese, SP Dillon Gee, and eventually prospect Noah Syndergaard. Add in veteran SP Bartolo Colon, and this rotation is is a scary one. Their lineup still needs a lot of work, but even that should improve this year. They aren’t ready to be competitive yet, but the Mets fans have a lot to look forward to.

22. Chicago White Sox – The White Sox had an impressive off season, acquiring Cuban prospect Jose Abreu, whose power seems to be legit, and former Diamondback Prospects Adam Eaton and Matt Davison. White Sox had already acquired OF Avisail Garcia by trading SP Jake Peavy last year. Whitesox have a legit chance to shoot up the power rankings by the end of the year, they just need to prove they can compete first.

21. Toronto Blue Jays- Blue Jays were considered serious contenders by many at this point last year. The year ended up being a disaster, and they now look like the losers of the pair of blockbuster trades they made last year. The R.A. Dickey trade looks like a complete bust, and the huge trade they made for most of the Marlins team doesn’t look much better. This is still a talented team, but their rotation is suspect. The potential for success is still there, but there isn’t nearly as much hype as there was last year.

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Major League Off Season Report Card (Indians)

Moves so far

John Axford

  • Traded CF Drew Stubbs to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Pitcher Josh Outman.
  • SP John Axford signed to a one-year, $4.5 million deal
  • LF David Murphy signed a two-year deal worth $12 million
  • DH Jason Giambi has re-signed with the Cleveland Indians
  • Signed INF David Adams

Rumor Mill

  • Looking for pitching in free agency

The Indians lost a lot this off season. SP Ubaldo Jimenez, SP Scott Kazmir, SP Joe Smith and closer Chris Perez all have left the Indians, depleting the Indians pitching staff. The signing of John Axford, and acquisition of Josh Outman helps, but it doesn’t fill the void left.

After coming onto the scene as a premiere, closer a few years ago, John Axford has struggled to get outs, finally losing his job as the Brewers closer last year. He will get a fresh chance to be the Indians closer unless they make another move.

 Josh Outman can take a spot in the rotation if necessary, or he could come out of the bullpen. Depending on what the Indians do the rest of this off season, they will put him where they most need the help. He is a serviceable pitcher, but is nothing special. He has a 4.3 ERA out of the pen last year for the Rockies.

Resigning Giambi ensures they have a power bat off the bench. Despite hitting below the Mendoza line last year, Giambi managed to hit 9 home runs off the bench, and over 30 rbi’s.

Signing Murphy makes up for losing Stubbs. Both are liability’s with a bat in their hand, but provide good defense. Murphy hit only a little over .220 last year with the Rangers, whereas Stubbs hit .230 for the Indians.

Indians lost a lot of value from last year, it will be hard for them to make the playoffs again with their pitching staff being depleted the way it has.

Indians get a D, they really need to make some more moves and improve their rotation. Names like Closer Fernando Rodney, and SP Jason Hammel have been thrown around. If they can’t they will fall way behind the Tigers and White Sox, who both improved a lot.

If the Indians make any moves, an update will be posted.

Next up is the NL West.

Major League Off Season Report Card (White Sox)

Moves so far

Paul Konerko

Paul Konerko (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Signed 1B Jose Dariel Abreu to a six-year, $68 million deal
  • Re-signed 1B Paul Konerko to a one-year, $2.5 million deal
  • Signed RHP Ronald Belisario to a one-year, $3 million deal
  • Signed RP Felipe Paulino to a one-year, $1.75 million deal
  • Traded SP Hector Santiago to the Angels and OF Brandon Jacobs to the Diamondbacks in exchange for OF Adam Eaton
  • Traded RP Addison Reed to Arizona for 3B Matt Davidson
  • Signed RP Scott Downs to a one-year, $4 million deal

Rumor Mill

  • White Sox Still in the Market for a Catcher
  • Gordon Beckham a trade candidate

The White Sox are putting all their eggs into building a team that will be good a few years down the line. They have sacrificed the present with a hope of being competitive again down the line. They traded one of their best relievers, Addison Reed, and one of their best starters, Hector Santiago, to acquire prospects.

OF Adam Eaton and 3B Matt Davidson come over from the Diamondbacks, and both will enter spring training with the Sox as probable starters. Eaton, 25 years-old, hit over .330 with 100 stolen bases in four minor league seasons, will step into centerfield for the Sox. Most scouts consider Eaton a sure thing, and that he will bring a new energy to the Chicago clubhouse that they have been missing.

Davidson, 22 years-old, isn’t as much of a sure thing. With a long, and slow swing, he tends to swing and miss a lot, striking out over 120 times in all four of his minor league seasons. While he struggles to make contact, .230 average in the minors, when he doesn’t make contact it goes a long way, 80 homeruns in those four years. While his defense is at best suspect, the White Sox lack depth at third and Davison has the inside track to being the starter at the beginning of the season.

The White Sox also brought in Cuban 1st basemen Jose Dariel Abreu, one of the most highly praised Cuban prospects this year. Abreu gives the Sox a legit presence in the middle of the lineup if his game can transfer to the majors. He hit over .300 with 30 homeruns in his last full season in Cuba. He will replace Konerko at first, and most likely settle into the middle of the lineup. Konerko has resigned for one-year, and will most likely be the designated hitter.

White Sox have made great this offseason in acquiring young talent. More importantly, they gave up very little to acquire that talent. Davidson may never work out, but Eaton and Abreu appear to be legit. Combine them with the acquisition of OF Avisail Garcia for SP Jake Peavy at the trade deadline last year, and they have a nice core of young players

White Sox get an A, they clearly understand they have to acquire young talent, and have done just that. It remains to be seen if that talent will pay off, but they are at least trying. With their current roster, it’s very possible White Sox could be competitive again within a couple years.

If the White Sox make any new moves, there will be an update posted.

Next team up is the Twins.