The regular MLB season is almost over, the play-offs have yet to start, but we are already looking forward to the next year. The distance between the top teams and the lesser gods in the American League was great in 2019, but that could change next year. In this article we zoom in on three Junior Circuit organizations that didn’t compete for the prizes this year, but that can make a throw for a place in the postseason in 2020.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Four names: Guerrero Jr., Bichette, Biggio, Gurriel Jr. The Blue Jays have nothing to complain about young, offensive fire power. The quartet of youngsters (respectively 20, 21, 24 and 25 years old) makes Toronto not only one of the nicest teams to watch, but also in one fell swoop a candidate to become one of the better offenses in the AL East.
For their first year in the Majors, Toronto’s super quartet did a great job. Although Guerrero didn’t break the league as he was attributed beforehand, you can’t complain about a 20-year-old who has hit .272 with 15 homeruns in his first full season so far. Vladito was skillfully beaten out this year by Bichette and Gurriel Jr., who had OPS of .930 and .869 written down respectively. Biggio did similar things as Guerrero, but also with 15-ish steals. In short: let these four slide.
Supplemented with fellow-jonkies Rowdy Tellez (24), who hit two more home runs on Wednesday night and Eric Hinske’s franchise rookie-homerun record is approaching, and Teoscar Hernandez (26) is knocking the future firmly on the door in Canada. Toronto’s offense becomes appointment television in 2020.
WHAT ELSE DOES IT TAKE?
Pitching. After the sale of Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, Toronto has no pitcher left. Building a rotation seems to have absolute priority in Ontario. Matt Shoemaker returns from an injury in 2020, but is not a pitcher you can rely on. The Jays will be searching the market for talent from outside, but don’t forget flamethrower Nate Pearson. The 23-year-old threw together an amazing season in 2019 (2.30 ERA, 119 strikeouts and 27 walks in 101.2 innings) and seems ready for a try-out in the Majors. Anthony Kay, who came over from the Mets, is also leaning against the Majors and could throw for a spot in the rotation.
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
The Sophomore Slump is a small thing. The foursome mentioned above will enter their second year in the Majors at the same time in 2020. If all of them, or more than one of the players, are affected by the ‘second year curse’, Toronto has a problem. There is no room for error, because the selection is too thin for that.
For some years now it has been one of the more colorless teams in the American League: the Texas Rangers. Last season the Texans didn’t really compete for a moment for the prizes. Is also quite difficult, in the division where the Houston Astros have been in service for several years. Also in the wildcard it was not possible last year. With more than 15 games behind the list leaders, Arlington was able to plug the season early this year.
Still, in 2020 it could all be different, thanks to an influx of young players entering their second year or who are still young enough for the breakout we’ve been waiting for for for a while.
NEW YEAR, NEW FACES
A trio of 24-year-old playmakers will be part of the younger core of the Rangers next year. Ronald Guzman, Willie Calhoun and Nick Solak were already part of the main force this year and will also be part of the team with which the Rangers want to attack on the AL West title next season. Then there are two players who have been playing for so many years now that you would almost forget that they are less than 26 years old. Nomar Mazara (24) and Rougned Odor (25) have been disappointing the last few years, but their talent has been recognised far beyond Texas for years. In the bullpen everything revolves around Jose Leclerc (25), but he had a hard time in the first year of his new million deal.
WHAT ELSE DOES IT TAKE?
Pitching. The Rangers used no less than 36 different pitchers in 2019. It was actually one big application round for next year. Emmanuel Clase (21) got through this very well (2.66 ERA in 20 innings), but for the rest it was not to write home about it.
The return to the highest level of Lance Lynn and Mike Minor was fun, but something has to be done to keep things going. Kolby Allard (21) was a good addition, but you can’t let such a young pitcher carry a full load. Ariel Jurado (23) had trouble with his first full year on a Major League hill, but offered some leads. Some pitching prospects (Joe Palumbo and Yohander Mendez, both 24) can rely on nice minor league-statistics, but whether they can take a starting role, is very much in doubt. In short: purchases.
Oh, and a catcher wouldn’t be a luxury either. The one for the future is in the Minors in the form of Sam Huff, one of the breakout minor leaguers of 2019. Last year, the 21-year-old backstop hit .278 with a .845 OPS in A and A+. Yet there are few 21-year-old catchers in MLB, and for a reason. Unless Huff leaves an indelible impression in Spring Training, we don’t expect him to be at the highest level until 2021.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG?
Mazara and Odor don’t exchange their promises (again) and Calhoun, Guzman and Solak don’t get things off the ground. Gallo’s power returns after his broken wrist, but his batting average drops back to career proportions. There is no pitching and the Rangers fight with the Mariners again for the last place in the division.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2019 was not the breakthrough year that was hoped for in Chicago. Due to serious injuries with Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning, and the difficult start of superstar-in-progress Eloy Jimenez, the White Sox didn’t get any further than a third place in the AL Central. So it became more of a development year for Ricky Renteria’s team.
Shortstop Tim Anderson (26) currently strikes his way to the Major League (!) batting title with a .339 batting average, Yoán Moncada (24) lost almost 10% of his strikeout rate in his second Major League season (and currently strikes en passant .313 with 24 home runs and a .910 OPS) and Eloy Jimenez (22) was a Yordan Alvarez removed from the Rookie of the Year Award (30 home runs, 17 doubles, 77 RBI’s and a .825 OPS). The trio so far jointly leads the Major League in hits in September (Moncada at spot 1, Anderson and Jimenez shared second).
In addition, Lucas Giolito (25) became the ace of the rotation (228 strikeouts in 176.2 IP, 3.41 ERA, 1.06 WHIP). Add to that a fairly successful first cup of coffee in the Majors of 23-year-old pitcher Dylan Cease (81 strikeouts in 73.0 IP) and the picture is complete.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old outfieldprospect Luis Robert (a consensus top 3-prospect in baseball) wrecked three levels in the Minor Leagues and will make his appearance in the Big Leagues in 2020. Second-honkman Nick Madrigal will also make his debut in the main power next season. A lineup with Anderson, Moncada, Abreu, Jimenez and Robert as the first five, with a place for Madrigal somewhere, should be a win for you. A rotation with Giolito, Kopech, Cease and Lopez should be able to go far.
WHAT ELSE IS NEEDED?
Strangely enough: quite a bit more. The black hole in centerfield has been solved with Robert, but the Bermuda Triangle in the rightfield really needs to be addressed. The revolving door of AAAA players that was the position in 2019 will not work again. So the club will go after a free agent; maybe Yasiel Puig will expand the White Sox-Cubanen contingent? The club also lacks a lefty hitter.
In addition, many of the Sox’ chances are now leaning on a rotation without a veteran. An arm or two to complement the quartet Giolito, Lopez, Kopech and Cease, is a must. There is a certain Gerrit Cole available on the Free Agent market, for whom the Palehose must go all-in. Waiting for Carlos Rodon to return from his Tommy John (mid-2020) is not an option.
Oh yes, and Jose Abreu’s contract has yet to be renewed. Without their leader in the clubhouse, the Sox risk becoming a ship without a mate.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG?
The Sox fish behind the net again on all fronts. It’s happened before, most recently with Manny Machado: the White Sox don’t go after reinforcements fast enough. There’s no room to play in the margin this winter; the club has to bang on the available Free Agents.