5 teams poised to turn it around in '21

November 3rd, 2020

We’ve all heard the overused axioms when it comes to baseball -- "Wait ‘til Next Year," "Hope Springs Eternal," things of that nature. Every fan of every team that didn’t win one year wants to hold onto that optimism heading into a new season, right?

The Twins made the playoffs in 2017 after posting the worst record in baseball in '16. Then in 2018, the A's and Braves made the postseason after Oakland had finished in last place in the AL West in '17, while the Braves had lost 90 games and finished 25 games out of first place in the NL East. That led us to take a look at 2018 teams that could pull a similar about-face in '19.

At the end of that season, we predicted turn arounds by the Padres, White Sox, Blue Jays, Twins and Reds. The reversal of fortune didn’t happen right away, but it should be noted that all five of those teams made the postseason in 2020 (with the Twins being the lone team to do the one-year improvement to make the playoffs in '19).

Here’s a look at the 14 teams that did not make the 2020 playoffs, listed in reverse order of record, like the 2021 Draft order.

  1. Pirates (19-41)
  2. Rangers (22-38)
  3. Tigers (23-35)
  4. Red Sox (24-36)
  5. Orioles (25-35)
  6. D-backs (25-35)
  7. Royals (26-34)
  8. Rockies (26-34)
  9. Angels (26-34)
  10. Mets (26-34)
  11. Nats (26-34)
  12. Mariners (27-33)
  13. Phillies (28-32)
  14. Giants (29-31)

There are a couple of different ways to look at this. First there are the teams that just had rough 60-game stretches, but it’s easy to see them simply bouncing back. Teams like the Red Sox and Nationals could fit into that category.

In the other bucket are teams that struggled in 2020 but have the farm system to help bring winning back to their cities. Which teams are best suited for a turnaround? Here are five teams that could get a homegrown boost in '21 or beyond, with their placement on our most recent farm system rankings in parentheses. It’s worth pointing out that all five showed at least small improvement, in terms of winning percentage, between 2019-2020, much like the Padres, White Sox and Reds did from 2018-2019.

1. Tigers (2): While they still have the No. 3 pick in the 2021 Draft, there’s no question the Tigers are starting to head in the right direction. If you project this year’s record out to 162 games, it would’ve been about an 18-game improvement from last season. The farm system already sent top arms like Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal to the big leagues in 2020, so look for them to settle in and be joined by a healthy Matt Manning and others behind him. On the offensive side, it might be too much to expect Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 Draft, to make it up next year, but he is the kind of advanced bat that shouldn’t take too long. And 2019 first-rounder Riley Greene, who turned heads all summer, should move quickly as well.

2. Mariners (4): Like the Tigers, the Mariners also improved in 2020, going from a .420 winning percentage in '19 to .450 this season. Likely American League Rookie of the Year Award winner Kyle Lewis will continue to provide power and run production, and he should be joined both by Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez in 2021 to create perhaps the most exciting young outfield in baseball, with depth behind that trio. Young arms like Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn contributed in '20 and there’s more help on the way, including future frontline starter Logan Gilbert.

3. Royals (10): The 2018 Draft class that brought in a bunch of advanced college pitching started paying dividends at the big league level, with Brady Singer and Kris Bubic becoming mainstays in the rotation. They should be joined by Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar next season to help keep lifting Kansas City. And don’t be surprised if 2019 No. 2 overall pick Bobby Witt gets to the big leagues faster than many would have thought given his age (he doesn’t turn 21 until June), with superstar potential in his future.

4. Orioles (8): The 2020 O’s got lifts from prospects like Ryan Mountcastle offensively and Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin in the rotation. Top pitching prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall should front that rotation in the near future, and they’ll all be able to throw to 2019 No. 1 overall pick Adley Rutschman for a very long time, with Rutschman providing the kind of franchise-changing ability and leadership every team hopes they get when they have the top pick in the Draft.

5. Giants (13): The Giants have been incrementally creeping back up to the .500 mark since finishing with a .395 winning percentage that landed them the No. 2 overall pick in 2018. That pick, Joey Bart, made it to the bigs in '20 and should be San Francisco's backstop for years to come. He could get help from someone like Heliot Ramos in 2021 as well, but this is one team that could take another year to completely transform, with guys like Marco Luciano leading the way.