Ranking the 10 rebuilding MLB teams with the brightest futures ahead

With Major League Baseball’s regular season delayed due to the coronavirus, this is as good of a time as any to rank things. In an alternate universe, where Opening Day went off without a hitch, every fan base would still be more bullish than normal. For some, that optimism would soon give way to a hard pragmatism: This season isn’t about winning the World Series or the pennant, or even about securing a spot in the Wild Card Game. No, this season is about laying the foundation for the future, and about accumulating the assets required to field a long-term, sustainable winner.

Once those fan bases are exorcised of whatever former executive’s spirit has possessed them, they would settle on the harsh truth: their team was bad and the summer would be tedious. Several fan bases are more familiar with that sense of resignation than others, and for that they deserve a post. As such, we’re using this space to judge the progress of the perennial losers’ rebuilds.

We counted 10 teams who could reasonably fit into the “rebuilding” phase of the competitive cycle. Now, let’s rank them based on the perceived brightness of their futures.

1. San Diego Padres

Was there any doubt? The Padres farm system has already produced a superstar shortstop, in Fernando Tatis Jr., and an above-average starter, in Chris Paddack. More young talent is on the way, too, with MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patino, C.J. Abrams climbing the organizational ladder. A.J. Preller has been aggressive in adding to his big-league roster in recent seasons as well, signing Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer, and more recently trading for Tommy Pham and Trent Grisham. If there is a season, the Padres should at least flirt with their first winning effort since 2010.

2. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox had a busy winter, beginning with their signing of catcher Yasmani Grandal to bolster their offense and defense. Extending Luis Robert could prove to be a masterstroke, especially if he lives up to his star upside. The White Sox also have Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez locked up, and have more promising youngsters on the way, including Michael Kopech, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn. Good times appear to be coming to Chicago.

3. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays haven’t landed their version of Machado or Grandal yet, but this offseason’s signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu represented a step in the right direction. Toronto will have Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette in the lineup all season, and should add Nate Pearson at some point. The Blue Jays have a few other interesting young contributors to take note of, too, in Lourdes Gurriel and Cavan Biggio. Depending on what happens in Boston, the Blue Jays could make a run at third place, which would represent their best finish since 2016.

4. Texas Rangers

The Rangers get this spot due to their combination of big-league talent and minor-league potential. Most of the teams below them are hopeful that their system produces a Joey Gallo, or even a Nick Solak. The Rangers have those two, plus at least three above-average starting pitchers. Jon Daniels’ club could also have a much-improved farm system if the right player or two takes a step forward developmentally. The same was true a year ago, and might be said in a year’s time, so we’ll see.

5. Seattle Mariners

Everyone knows about outfield tandem Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, but the Mariners farm system is deeper than that. Logan Gilbert could continue to zip through the system, while Evan White was handed a long-term extension before he so much as played in Triple-A. The next step for the Mariners is to get aggressive, both in free agency and through trades (as if Jerry Dipoto needs any encouragement on that front). 

6. Miami Marlins

Yes, the Marlins. Derek Jeter’s club has remade its farm system over the past two years, and now features a slew of boom-or-bust prospects, including Jazz Chisholm, Jesus Sanchez and Sixto Sanchez. That group could, with the right combination of development and luck, yield a star-level contributor or two. The Marlins should get some credit for adding veterans this winter to improve the short-term prospects of the team. They’re still going to lose a lot of games in 2020 if they get the chance, but perhaps not in the horror-show fashion of recent years.

7. Pittsburgh Pirates

We’re trying to not give in too much to recency bias. That’s why the Pirates are here instead of, well, ninth or 10th. Pittsburgh still has some decent, if flawed big-league pieces — Jameson Taillon is injured; Josh Bell is a substandard defender; and so on — and a number of intriguing prospects, ranging from starter Mitch Keller to third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes to abnormally sized shortstop Oneil Cruz. Pittsburgh is likely to add to its farm system over the coming year, but they’re starting in a better position than you’d think.

8. Kansas City Royals

We’re putting the Royals ahead of the Tigers because while both teams are reliant upon young pitchers developing as desired, the Royals have more hitting talent in the system, including in the majors. Dayton Moore will probably trade Whit Merrifield, but the Tigers don’t have a position player with the upside of either Bobby Witt Jr. or Adalberto Mondesi. (Whether Witt or Mondesi can tap into their upside frequently enough to become a star is another matter.) 

9. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers can at least boast that PECOTA sees them winning more games than the Royals. They might end up with the better haul of young arms, too. Casey Mize was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft for a reason, and he should reach the majors this season (if there is one) alongside Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal. Those three will go a long way in reshaping the watchability of the Tigers. Unfortunately, the system is light on hitters outside of Riley Greene and Isaac Paredes, and the Tigers have only so many more chips to cash in at the big-league level.

10. Baltimore Orioles

To be fair to the Orioles, they’re in the early stages of a complete rebuild. There are some promising players in the system, such as No. 1 pick and catcher Adley Rutschman and right-handed starter Grayson Rodriguez. The big-league roster is in a bad way, however, and could get worse if and when Mike Elias trades Trey Mancini, Mychal Givens and others. None of this should come as a shock, but it means more bleak times are ahead at Camden Yards.

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