As former Rockies General Manager and current MLB Network analyst Dan O’Dowd said during the 2020 MLB Draft telecast, “Baseball is a hard game to predict the future.”
He’s correct. But I’m going to try and do it anyway.
This is the final part of a six-part series where I take a look into my crystal ball (or shiny sphere for a play on words with my last name) and try to predict the next time each team will be ready to contend for the postseason. (This is not necessarily when each team will make the postseason, because there could be more teams that are contenders than playoff spots, whatever that number is going to be going forward.) It’s going to be when can I look at a roster and say, “that team can make the playoffs.” This is obviously a complete shot in the dark because new players will be drafted and trades and free agent signings will happen over the years, but I’m looking at this mainly with the personnel currently in each organization.
The Diamondbacks have been *checks notes* not good this year. They appeared to be attempting to win and rebuild at the same time and, as is often the case, that doesn’t work. The good news is they now have a direction and have done an excellent job in the draft over the past few years, headlined by one of my favorite players in the 2019 Draft class in Corbin Carroll. Though he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in May, I love this kid and think he’s going to be a star. Their future outfield of him, Kristian Robinson and Alek Thomas is going to be special. Geraldo Perdomo looks like a long-term answer at shortstop as does Seth Beer at first base. Carson Kelly looks like he can be one of the game’s better catchers and the Daulton Varsho experience is puzzling to me. I like him at catcher but they’re putting him in center field for some reason but if he doesn’t hit, it won’t matter. (If Pavin Smith can become a guy for them, that’s a bonus because I’m not banking on him as an everyday player.)
They’re very deep in young pitching as well, headlined by Zac Gallen at the major league level and another 2019 first-rounder in Blake Walston, who is a few years away but has as much upside as any pitching prospect in baseball. I liked the Bryce Jarvis-Slade Cecconi strategy in last year’s draft and they are in a position to add another high-end talent with the sixth pick this weekend. With another high pick looking increasingly likely in 2022, I think Arizona could be turning this thing around quicker than you might think.
Projected playoff contenders: 2024
This is a team that traded Nolan Arenado for a back-end starter, two top 30 prospects that are hitting around .250 and two A-ball bullpen arms. And pending free agent Trevor Story is not going to sign a long-term deal there and all 30 teams know it, so they have zero leverage in any potential trade. This team is a mess. There’s really no reason to look at the major league roster aside from maybe Brendan Rodgers, so let’s skip that part.
Their 2020 Draft class was solid. I like Zac Veen a lot and liked their selection of Chris McMahon in the second round. Drew Romo is going to be an elite defender and will be one of the top catchers in baseball if his bat develops. Sam Weatherly was also a solid pick in the third round as a potential left-handed starter. They need to develop their own pitching and hopefully Ryan Rolison could help them soon. Helcris Olivarez, a 20-year-old southpaw, may have the highest upside of any arm in their system. The issue with this system is they have a lot of corner infield bats, most that will likely be limited to first base. Michael Toglia, a first-rounder in 2019, is the highest regarded of the bunch and he could be a gold-glover. But you also have Aaron Schunk (who is experimenting with second base this year), Elehuris Montero (who came over in the Arenado trade and will likely have to move to first), Colton Welker (who could play either spot), and Grant Lavigne (limited to first). That’s just poor roster construction because a number of your top guys are limited defensively. You really can’t move those guys around the diamond like you can with up-the-middle players. I do like Ryan Vilade though I’m a bit puzzled as to why they moved him to the outfield corners. I liked him up-the-middle but the bat looks like it’s going to play regardless.
The problem with Colorado is you need to develop your own pitching because you are just not going to get guys to come pitch there unless you vastly overpay. That needs to be their primary focus in the draft, and they’ve selected a lot of bats lately. With the eighth pick this weekend and a few more top 10 picks likely in the coming years, there will be opportunities to build this system. There is just no impact at or near the big league level, so it’s going to be a while.
Projected playoff contenders: 2026
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are a pretty good baseball team. I don’t need to spend a whole lot of time here because you already know who is on their roster. (The Trevor Bauer situation is obviously up in the air right now, but they have plenty of pitching to overcome whatever happens there.) I’m here to tell you what you don’t already know.
That Yasiel Puig/Matt Kemp trade with the Reds in 2018 was a heist for the Dodgers. They unloaded two contracts on Cincinnati and also got back Josiah Gray, who has emerged as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. (Not to mention Jeter Downs, wo they turned into Mookie Betts.) This is a team that drafts very well and they somehow got two of the top college bats at the end of the first round in 2019 in Kody Hoese and Michael Busch, though both are slumping this year. It was interesting drafting Busch as a second baseman and they view him as a potential Max Muncy type of player. Hoese will hit and will fit the third base profile as the likely heir-apparent to Justin Turner. Their third-rounder that year, Ryan Pepiot, is enjoying a breakout year with Double-A Tulsa and could be on the fast track. They also had a strong 2020 class, starting with Bobby Miller. They then under-slotted Landon Knack in the second round, the best fifth-year-senior prospect in years, and were able to over-slot Clayton Beeter in the supplemental second round and especially Jake Vogel, one of the more tooled-up prep outfielders in the draft, in the third round. They also have two of the better catching prospects in the game in Keibert Ruiz and Diego Cartaya. The Dodgers are really darn good and they’re going to be really darn good for a long time.
Projected playoff contenders: 2021
San Diego Padres
The Padres are here and they’re here to stay. They have a young star in Fernando Tatis Jr. and, knowing they were close to contending, they wisely added veterans in Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado in the years leading up. It wasn’t all the farm system, however. Heck, none of it was when you look at their roster. Each impact player was acquired from outside the organization. Wil Myers was the one player who had been there for years and the Padres are his third organization. I liked the Trent Grisham acquisition. He fits nicely in center field and atop the order. Tommy Pham is a grinder. I love Xavier Edwards and wasn’t a fan of that trade, but Jake Cronenworth has proven his worth and is a solid versatile player. I didn’t understand the Taylor Trammell for Austin Nola swap but Nola has been one of the better catchers when healthy. It’s kind of amazing, but a lot of that great farm system has been shipped out of San Diego. But when you’re ready to win, that’s what you do. Though you’re not supposed to trade for an entire rotation in a six-month span. That just doesn’t happen. Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove have been excellent, and Blake Snell will be fine.
Even after all the trades they made over the past 18 or so months, there is still plenty of high-end talent in this farm system. MacKenzie Gore is the famous name and while he has struggled this year in Triple-A, I’m not worrying about him yet. (Raise your hand if you had Ryan Weathers reaching the majors before Gore. Yeah, me neither.) This will be one of the top southpaws in the game. I love CJ Abrams and was devastated when I found out he was going to miss the rest of the season. It’s an elite hit tool with elite speed and it’s looking increasingly likely he sticks at shortstop, though the Padres will figure out where he plays when the time comes. Robert Hassell was one of my favorite high school bats in last year’s draft and he’s off to a strong start. Luis Campusano is likely to be their catcher of the future and will be an asset at and behind the plate. This team is a force to be reckoned with and I believe will be one of the sport’s top teams of the 2020s.
Projected playoff contenders: 2021
San Francisco Giants
Apparently, the Giants think it’s 2012 and not 2021. I don’t know how they are playing as well as they are, but I don’t buy it at all. It’s a bunch of overachieving veterans that are all having career years at once. Whatever they do this year, this is by no means their next championship core. That resides in the minors where Marco Luciano is the cream of the crop. The teenager possesses some of the most raw power in the minors with elite arm strength. He may have to move over to third base as he fills out, but he would certainly profile at the hot corner. Prospect gurus have been waiting for him to break out into one of the game’s elite prospects and most feel it’s only a matter of time. I like Hunter Bishop’s toolset though his swing-and-miss concerns have been prevalent early in his pro career, but I like the power-speed combo and believe he can stick in center field. I am lower than most folks on Joey Bart’s hit tool and am not sure he’s going to be the elite catcher a lot of people make him out to be. But outfielders Luis Matos and Jario Pomares look like they’re on the verge of taking a big leap on prospect lists and I’m a fan of Luis Toribio’s bat despite his slow start to the season, even if he has to move over to first.
Their draft strategy last year was puzzling at first glance. They under-slotted three of their first five picks, including first-rounder Patrick Bailey, so they could over-slot Nick Swiney and especially Kyle Harrison, who got late first-round money in the third round and is already a Baseball America Top 100 Prospect. That appears to be working out for them so far. He’s joined near the top of the Giants system by another southpaw in Seth Cory, who appears destined to become a mid-rotation arm. The towering 6’11” Sean Hjelle has exceptional body control for someone his size and looks like a back-end starter. (He’d be tied with Jon Rauch as the tallest big leaguer ever if he makes it.) With a number of breakouts appear to be happening this summer, this is a system that looks like it will have a rapid up arrow next to it.
Projected playoff contenders: 2023