One player to watch for each non-contender

August 13th, 2021

With the postseason races heating up, many fanbases are excited for their teams to make a push toward a World Series title. For some teams, though, their playoff hopes have already been dashed, leaving them to look to the future.

Yet there are still plenty of reasons to tune in every night. Here’s one player to watch down the stretch for every non-contender -- defined here as having postseason odds of 0% as of Wednesday -- as we get into the dog days of summer. (Note: While fans can also look forward to the arrival of top prospects, we’re only considering current big leaguers here. All stats are as of Thursday).

Pirates: , OF
Reynolds has quietly turned himself into one of baseball’s most productive outfielders and a must-watch player in a matter of months. The Vanderbilt product is now a true five-tool player and probably the best position player to come through the Steel City since Andrew McCutchen. During McCutchen’s NL MVP award-winning season in 2013, Cutch hit .317/.404/.508 with 21 home runs in 157 games. Reynolds' slash line is nearly identical with a little under two months to go and he just crossed the 20-homer plateau as well. He’s even matched McCutchen with the glove, leading all NL outfielders in Outs Above Average.

Rockies: , SS/2B
It’s been a rough year for Rockies fans, but there has been one player who might give them a little solace. Rodgers has finally broken out after a few years of prospect limbo. Once rated as high as MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 overall prospect in 2016, Rodgers had some injuries and unproductive showings in the big leagues in 2019 and ‘20 that slowed his hype train down. He's now making good on that promise, though, slugging .485 in 59 games this year. If he can stay on the field and continue to swing the bat, the Rockies won’t have to look far for Trevor Story’s replacement if he leaves as a free agent this offseason.

D-backs: , UTIL
The D-backs still have a few pieces of their core left in Ketel Marte, David Peralta, Carson Kelly and Zac Gallen, but injuries and a shaky supporting cast spelled trouble for them early on this year. They may have uncovered a diamond in the rough in the process, however. Rojas has been the most versatile player on the roster, playing in both corner outfield positions and filling in at second base, shortstop and third base while blasting double-digit homers at the plate. Rojas might not get much recognition come awards season, but there's no doubt he's been one of the D-backs most valuable players this season.

Rangers: , OF
The Rangers traded two All-Stars from their roster at the deadline, but they managed to keep one around. García has come out of nowhere and vaulted himself into AL Rookie of the Year contention, leading all rookies in home runs with 25. It took stops in Japan and St. Louis for him to find himself a starting role in Arlington, but the 28-year-old might just become one of the most unlikely Rookie of the Year Award winners in a long time. If he were to win the award, it would make him the second-oldest player to do so in AL history, behind Kazuhiro Sasaki of the Mariners, who took home the honor at 32 years young, following a lengthy career in Japan.

Twins: , OF
Buxton looked like an AL MVP contender to start the year, but injuries significantly slowed his momentum. That’s been the story of his career so far, but when he’s on the field, he’s one of the game's most electric players. Whether he’s hitting home runs or robbing them, Buxton can affect a game in any way, shape or form. He’s currently on the injured list with a fracture in his left hand, but when he comes back, Twins fans should take in all the highlights he’ll provide in the final two months of the season, especially given his pending free agency.

Royals: , C
It’s very uncommon for an everyday catcher to find his power stroke north of 30, but something finally clicked at the plate for Salvy last season. He carried that momentum into 2021 and hasn’t looked back. He leads all catchers in home runs and RBIs and ranks third among AL catchers in OPS (min. 150 plate appearances). With a few more seasons like this, we may be asking ourselves a very important question: Is Salvador Perez a Hall of Fame candidate?

Orioles: , OF
They don’t call him “The Entertainer” for nothing. One of the top storylines of the season has been Mullins’ emergence from backup outfielder to candidate for the Orioles’ first 30-30 season. Mullins is amongst the league leaders in both hits and batting average with a top-15 OPS to boot. The type of turnaround he’s had is almost unheard of. He earned his first All-Star nod in July and is still flying high for the O’s, putting together perhaps his best performance of the season here in August. Mullins has a legit shot to collect both a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Award in the AL this season as well.

Tigers: , 1B/DH
The Tigers may have one of the brightest futures of any team on this list with Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal, three of the club’s top pitching talents, already in the big leagues. But for the rest of the year, all eyes will be on Cabrera and his quest for history. Cabrera is just one homer shy of becoming the 28th member of the 500-home run club and less than 60 hits shy of becoming the 33rd member of the 3,000-hit club. If Cabrera can go on a tear in the final third of the season, he could be just the seventh player to accomplish both feats and the first to do so in the same season.

Marlins: , SS/2B
While the Marlins haven’t replicated their success from last season when they reached the NLDS, they still have a ton of talent that will be key to their success in the future. Left-hander Trevor Rogers looks like he could be the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner and Jesús Aguilar has rediscovered himself in Miami. Chisholm, though, is the most fun out of the group, as the 23-year-old infielder is unapologetically himself on the field. From the bright blue hairstyle and the sparkling chains to the Euro step home run celebration and flashy plays up the middle, Chisholm makes watching Marlins baseball more enjoyable purely from the good vibes.

Cubs: , 3B
With the departures of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez at the Trade Deadline, an era of Cubs baseball was gone in a flash. But when the baseball gods close a door, they open a window. After bouncing around three different organizations to start his career, Wisdom has been a revelation for Chicago this season, sneakily becoming an NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate. So far this season, he’s hit 18 home runs with an OPS north of .900. That kind of production nearly matches, if not surpasses, what Bryant was doing for the Cubs this season in a little under 30 fewer games.

Nationals: , OF
The 22-year-old superstar has recorded an OBP of at least .400 and a slugging percentage of at least .500 in each of his first three seasons and looks to be on track to do so again in 2021. He ranks in the top five percent of the league in almost every Statcast metric there is, including expected batting average, average exit velocity, hard hit rate and chase rate. He’s even improved his fielding -- the weakest part of his game as a rookie -- posting 11 Outs Above Average since 2019. But Soto is at his most fun when he’s at the plate, shuffling and raking to all fields.