Coming into the 2019 MLB season, there is a definitive pecking order in terms of who is expected to compete for divisional crowns and beyond, and who is expected to compete for the first overall selection in the 2020 draft. Certain regulars, like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Houston Astros are all slated to repeat as divisional champs or wild card entries for this season’s playoffs.
While the season has not even officially begun yet, it is never too early to think about how teams are going to be performing this year. Luring in fans to think down the road about where their teams will be sitting once the All-Star break occurs is what makes the game of baseball such an interesting and gripping sport, something that both the NBA and NFL do not do as well as the MLB does.
Here are three teams that will exceed their expectations coming into the 2019 MLB season. Note, this does not mean they will necessarily make the playoffs; it just represents the fact that they will improve upon the expectations and standards that were given to them before starting the year.
Trapped in what should turn out to be one of the league’s toughest divisions to play in, the Cincinnati Reds will have to overcome the big-time odds and outplay the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and last year’s National League Central division champs, the Milwaukee Brewers.
Having started the offseason out with a bang, the Reds made a large move early on, as they linked up with the Los Angeles Dodgers for a salary dump, prospect shedding, and popular player swapping.
Receiving Matt Kemp, enigmatic Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Kyle Farmer, the Reds came away with two immediate plug-and-play starters in their outfield, as well as a solid 3-4 option in their starting rotation and a Triple-A/majors shuttle rider in Farmer, who is a solid utility man.
Thankfully, the team was able to shed the big-time deal of Homer Bailey in the deal, but they had to give up two top-20 prospects, including their seventh-best prospect Jeter Downs, who figures to be a steady cog on the Dodgers roster two to three years down the road, provided they do not ship him out for a proven player like they are famous for doing.
The Reds will not make the playoffs this year unless something drastically goes wrong or teams just choose not to show up. Their only chance is in the Wild Card, but there are plenty of teams better than them that will make this a real uphill battle.
However, even without making the playoffs, the Reds will surprise a lot of people and win 70+ games this year, an uptick of at least three victories from their 2018 season. Their 67-95 record last year was very evident of what kind of team they had put together, and outside of Joey Gallo, this team is lacking a solid superstar.
Final projected record: 74-88
The Seattle Mariners, like the Cincinnati Reds, dominated the transaction ticker this past offseason in the trade market, shipping out veteran Robinson Cano and All-Star closer Edwin Diaz to the New York Mets in a way to shed salary and speed up the necessary rebuild.
Relying on franchise cornerstone and veteran Felix Hernandez and young upstarts Mitch Haniger and Corey Seager was never going to be enough for this team, even if they still had both Cano and Diaz. By shipping those two out, they could speed up their timeframe, pull in valuable assets and move on to hopefully a more complete teardown of the team.
They also shipped out left-hander James Paxton to the New York Yankees, getting fireballer Justus Sheffield from the Bronx Bombers, a key prospect for their rebuild.
However, this team still has important pieces to build around and this season should not be considered a complete loss. Even as the team has said that Hernandez will not be starting this year’s Opening Day, the team has controllable assets to make 2019 a start of something special.
While not setting any records, the Mariners will make some noise in the American League West, one of the weaker divisions besides the Astros. This team will take a step back this season, having lost key pieces, but all hope will not be lost and they should finish third, vying for second going into the final month of the season.
Final projected record: 80-82
Even though the Minnesota Twins took second in the AL Central in 2018, they still finished with a sub-.500 record at 78-84. In a weak division that has the Cleveland Indians dominating the standings every season, the Twins are the most likely source of competition for this division.
A hot selection to be a surprise entrant into the playoffs this season, the Twins have controllable assets, a solid young core with well-placed veterans and a solid coaching staff who knows what to expect from its players. Players like Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, newly-signed Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Schoop and Jose Berrios will all be counted on in 2019 more than ever, as this team needs its youthful core to shed the not there yet labels and move into the ready to compete tier of teams.
The Twins should make the playoffs this year and are truly the only team in this article with a swinging chance to make that leap. Both the Reds and Mariners are around two years away from making any solid noise, and that is if they do not tear apart their rosters and blow it up.
While teams are always willing to blow it up and start fresh if things have not been working for a while, sometimes a retooling is a better plan of action than a rebuilding effort. Having the important pieces in place in the franchise, both on the major-league level and the minor-league level is key to a franchise’s long-term development, and these three teams have pieces at all levels that can help contribute now to make their 2019 seasons much more enjoyable than expected.
Final projected record: 84-78